Timothy Freshwater, 11 years old, has been expelled from the last school in the city. He’s played too many pranks and his teachers say he’s “too smart for his own good.” Since he’s now out of school, Mr. Bore, the CEO of the company his dad works for, recruits Timothy as his intern so Timothy can teach Mr. Bore how to make people like him. In Mr. Bore’s office, Timothy also meets Mr. Shen, a small Chinese man who happens to be an enslaved dragon. In order to free him so he can regain his dragon form, someone must steal a golden key from Mr. Bore and take Mr. Shen to China so he can pass through the Dragon’s Gate. That someone turns out to be Timothy, but it’s not as easy as he hopes because he’s being pursued by a Ninja and three mysterious black taxicabs.
Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate is Adrienne Kress’s second children’s novel, following her debut Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate stands alone, but Alex, the heroine of the first novel, turns up somewhere in the middle of this story.
I read one third of Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate and then I called it quits. I had three problems with the book. I would have been able to get past one or two of them, but this particular triumvirate was just too much and I eventually decided that there are better ways to spend my time.
My first issue was that I disliked Timothy. He’s sullen, cynical, and completely disinterested in other people. All he wants to do is watch TV. He’s a brat. As far as I could tell, Timothy had no positive personality traits. Based on the blurb for the book, I was expecting Timothy to be clever, but I didn’t think he was particularly clever. The author tells us he is, but I think he only seemed clever in contrast to the adults we meet.
Which brings me to my second issue: the adults in the first third of the novel, without exception, are unbelievably absurd. With parents like that, it’s no wonder Timothy’s so obnoxious. And Mr. Bore the CEO taking advice about personality improvement from Timothy and asking him to plan a fancy party? Right. I’m sure Adrienne Kress meant for the adults to be ludicrous — there’s a quirky feel to the novel that often works — but this unpleasantness was just another brick in the wall for me.
Thirdly, though I usually think an intrusive narrator is fun, I didn’t like this one. He’s supposed to be drily humorous, but it wasn’t working for me. I just didn’t think these sorts of intrusions were funny: “The crazy man nodded that he understood, or maybe just nodded because he liked the sensation of nodding, and stood quickly.” I listened to the audiobook version of Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, produced by Brilliance Audio and read by Christopher Lane. I could not tell if I just didn’t like the intrusive narrator in audio, or if it would have come across the same way in print. I did think Christopher Lane did a great job with the character voices, though.
Again, any of these issues by itself wouldn’t have kept me from continuing Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate — there were some parts that were delightfully quirky (e.g., the fish herder was hilarious) and I was interested in the female Ninja’s story. I feel certain that Timothy’s nasty personality would have mellowed and redeemed itself by the end of the book, too. But the journey wasn’t pleasant for me and I didn’t want to be around Timothy and all those stupid adults anymore, so I quit. I think I would have liked Adrienne Kress’s first novel, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, better.