EDIT: I’ve decided to stop calling these ‘reviews’. I’m not trying to be a professional reviewer, and just want to share my views on books I’ve read recently, uninformed by any real critical depth. I’m equally not trying to be particularly balanced, just going on my reader reaction. SO from now on I’ll be calling them ‘Views’ and removing ratings. I’ve edited the two views I’ve done so far accordingly. View is a funny word, isn’t it? View view view.
Full disclosure: BEETLE BOY is published by my publisher, and I have twice met (and really liked) its author, M.G. Leonard. This view is based on an uncorrected proof copy sent from Chicken House. But the reason I have chosen it for my first view is unrelated to any of these. It’s because it is one of my favourite books of the year – middle grade or otherwise – and with 2016 in sight I wanted to start by talking about books I’ve really, really loved in 2015. So here goes.
Title: BEETLE BOY
Author: M.G. Leonard
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication date: 3rd March 2016
Cover design: Helen Crawford-White
Illustrations: Julia Sarda
Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever.
A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad’s disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer – if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find it …
MY VIEW: You know how sometimes you just want to find a book that is completely satisfying? That is clever without being obvious about it, funny without trying too hard, and charming without being twee? This was that book for me. I really wanted to like it, and thankfully I loved it.
Part-mystery, part-adventure, BEETLE BOY is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read. The narrative voice had a misleading air of charming simplicity about it that immersed you in a plot of entertaining, and sometimes unnerving, depth. Starting with the tantalising set up of a father’s disappearance from a locked room, and ending with a charging beetle army, Leonard winds her way through the twisting, romping plot with a lightness of touch that has already drawn comparisons to Roald Dahl and JK Rowling.
The humour is perfectly judged and genuinely funny, with an undercurrent of danger and darkness that I so loved in books growing up (and still do!) There is enough reality to balance the more slapstick scenarios and ensure a real emotional connection to Darkus and his predicament. Leonard writes the children in her book with warmth and complexity, and I found the scenes with Novak Cutter surprisingly sad. Plus, I learned a lot about beetles without realizing I was learning. It’s a great theme and Leonard obviously revels in it.
FAVOURITE CHARACTER: There are many competitors, from Darkus’ rhinoceros beetle Baxter to Darkus himself, but the star of the show has to be the villainous Lucretia Cutter. Leonard reveals Cutter’s evil secrets bit-by-bit, relishing keeping the reader guessing about the full horror. One of the creepiest and most entertaining middle grade baddies I’ve read since Dahl’s THE WITCHES.
IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU’LL LIKE THESE: THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket, PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren.
UPDATE: The Bookseller concurs:
— M.G. Leonard (@MGLnrd) December 11, 2015