Format: It’s an actual book! Made of paper! 2011
Plot: Barney is a 13-year-old who suffers from Cherubism and is an amateur Cryptozoologist (think of someone searching for the Loch Ness monster or a Chupacabra). Late one night while exploring around his neighbor’s pond he sees something amazing – a giant fish/monster thing! He and his best friend Jenny (Wonky) begin working together to gather proof and figure out what it could be. However their progress is hampered by several things: Wonky’s paralysis, the fragile constitution of Barney’s mom who has the most sensitive hearing ever, promises made to Barney’s neighbors (the Grundys) to not explore late at night, and all the craziness that is part of being a 13-year-old boy.
Review: First off this is NOT the normal I Love YA Fiction material, so if you’re looking for our typical “squeee!!!!” book then this probably isn’t for you. However I do have to admit I was blown away on so many levels. Not only have I never reviewed a book like this but I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like this in my entire life.
My favorite part of the book was the amazing first-person narration. There were several times that I told Judith I was so worried about reviewing this because I didn’t want to even have the possibility of say something negative about a book written by a young teen (like when people trash those Chris Paolini books and I just say “okay, they’re not the best books ever but he’s like 13!”). And then I had to keep reminding myself over and over that this is actually written by an adult!! The author did an amazing job writing as a young teen and I was beyond impressed.
I have to admit I was a bit confused about a lot of the stuff in the book (like the cryptozoology) until Barney stated that he focuses on cryptozoology in order to forget about how difficult his life is: the physical disorder which makes him a target for all the jerkfaces in his grade (who I was wishing the plague on the entire time), his bff/maybe girlfriend is paralyzed, his mom has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, his dad is never around…that’s a lot of crap to deal with. I loved that the majority of the fun stuff in the book was a way to cushion all the depressing material. I know it’s a cliché but this was such a rollercoaster of emotions – especially at the end. One second I was laughing out loud, then I was cheering over Wonky and Barney, then I was bawling my eyes out. The entire last ¼ of the book I couldn’t put it down…not at all what I expected when I started out.
In the end I’m going to give this one an 8 out of 10. Honestly the only reason I’m only giving it an 8 is just because it doesn’t have the romance that I love so much in my YA novels. Other than that it was stellar.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked by this but I’ve never been a 13-year-old boy. However this book details exactly what I imagine is going on in the head of a teenage boy. He’s so curious and eager to investigate the world around him, confused by the fact that his best friend is all of a sudden becoming a real girl, and when it comes to his parents is at the same time too aware of what is going on while – like any teen – too quick to believe their problems are his fault. I loved all of the cryptozoology stuff and while reading about his antics with Wonky made me completely cringe I was also laughing hysterically the entire time. Completely unique from any character I’ve ever read about.
How much did I like the love interest: 8. I kinda want to give Wonky a lower score just because there were so many instances in which I didn’t like her but it’s stated from the very beginning that she has an abrasive personality and you can’t penalize someone for being true to form. I really didn’t like that she called Barney “Fathead” all the time (although maybe it’s a double standard because it didn’t bother me that he calls her “Wonky”), her stunts at school scared the crap out of me and are making me rethink this whole teaching thing, and the fact that she didn’t have 100% confidence in Barney was so upsetting. I almost wish this had been one of those books written from two different perspectives just so we could get a better idea of what’s going on in Wonky’s mind because there’s so much I want to know (like did she really not have confidence in him or was she just upset that he wasn’t obviously in love with her? I’m so confused!).
How believable is the plot: 6. Mostly cause of all the stuff to do with the outcome of Barney’s investigation into the possible giant fish/monster which I don’t want to spoil. Everything else was totally believable (sometimes it was depressingly believable).
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. There were a few writing errors but considering that I notice issues much more in print than on my Kindle and I only noticed like 3 here that’s amazing. I mean – Christopher Pike’s book had more than that and he’s world famous! Plus, as I said, his POV writing was amazing.
How much did I want to keep reading: 5. I had a lot of trouble getting in to this one but once I got beyond the halfway point I was sucked in. And the last 50 pages? Forget it. I stayed up way too late because I had to finish.
Glasses of wine I drank while reading: 3. I kept getting upset over everything Barney had to deal with. Which might be part of the reason why I cried so very much at the end but whatever. It happens to us all.
Final Score: 8/10. Different, fascinating, funny, sad, great storytelling. I love when my expectation for a book is actually too low, it’s times like this that I don’t mind being incorrect (well, don’t mind too much. I never like being incorrect). A very impressive first novel.
****Disclaimer: I got this book for free from the author. I swear I didn’t bribe him in any way, or get paid for my review. And we might not be legit enough to need this disclaimer but after working at a law firm for many years it’s better safe than sorry!****