Kid vs. Squid: Solid children’s fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book reviews Greg Van Eekhout Kid vs. SquidKid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout

Kid vs. Squid, by Greg van Eekhout, is definitely a children’s fantasy. It comes in at a slim sub-200 pages (with pretty good-sized print) and doesn’t take much time with detailed description, rich character development, or intricate plotting. That isn’t a complaint; it’s just to say that Kid vs. Squid knows who its audience is, and while it won’t dumb things down or talk down to its readers, it also won’t stretch them. Keeping to relatively humble standards of that sort, it succeeds pretty solidly.

Middle-school age Thatcher has been sent to his Uncle Griswald’s in Las Huesas, California for the summer. The beach town is oddly empty of beach-goers and Uncle Griswald lives in a tiny “museum” filled with shrunken heads, ships in bottles, strangely shaped bodies, and a “What-is-it” box he isn’t supposed to look into.

Things turn even stranger within a few pages as the box is stolen by young girl and soon Thatcher, the burglar (who turns out to be a princess), and another young girl (Trudy) are caught up in an ancient curse, the fall of Atlantis, and a battle against the head of a witch (yes, just the head) and her sea creature minions.

The plot is fast-paced and pretty straightforward, and there isn’t much time between events, especially at the close which feels a bit over-rushed and busy. The characters are clear but not particularly deep or rich. Thatcher tells us he’s a sarcastic, sometimes funny kid who uses words as defense/weapons (sometimes to a fault), but his wry humor is hit and miss throughout — sometimes right on and sometimes feeling forced or falling flat. Also, one never feels particularly attached to him. The same is true of Shoal, the princess, who is off-stage for the vast majority of the book. The best character by far is Trudy — a cross between Nancy Drew Young Detective, MacGyver, and as Thatcher points out, Batman (her utility belt is her backpack) which, he realizes, unfortunately makes him Robin. She feels the most unique of all the characters and the most individualistic, and the humor seems less forced with her. In some ways, I wished she were the main character, or at least we saw her do more (though she is heavily involved throughout).

Setting, description, etc. are pretty slim, as is typical of books aimed at younger readers. The streamlined nature helps with the beginning of the book, and young kids will enjoy speeding through, but it works against the story a bit more in the last quarter, where I found myself wishing that Van Eekhout had taken his time a bit more to show us some great set scenes as well as let some of the emotional impact build up.

Kid vs. Squid (a great title by the way) will be enjoyed by younger readers (say, 3rd through 6th grade) and less so as they move up into middle school. Recommended for that younger set, with a weaker recommendation for 7th and 8th graders who might find it a bit too quick and simple and lean, while it will probably hold little attraction for those even older.

Kid vs. Squid — (2010) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Thatcher Hill is bored stiff of his summer job dusting the fake mermaids and shrunken heads at his uncle’s seaside Museum of Curiosities. But when a mysterious girl steals an artifact from the museum, Thatcher’s summer becomes an adventure that takes him from the top of the ferris wheel to the depths of the sea. Following the thief, he learns that she is a princess of the lost Atlantis. Her people have been cursed by an evil witch to drift at sea all winter and wash up on shore each summer to an even more terrible fate — working the midway games and food stands on the boardwalk. Can Thatcher help save them before he, too, succumbs to the witch’s curse? With sharp, witty writing that reads like a middle-grade Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Greg van Eekhout’s first book for young readers is a wild ride packed with as many laughs as it has thrills.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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