Unsuccessful; readers may be more pleased with Charles Gilman’s Lovecraft Middle School series for sci-fi fun or The...

BEYOND THE DOORS

Four motherless siblings embark on an adventure that leads them through the memories—and nightmares—of the past.

The Rothbaum siblings—Janice, Zack, Sydney, and Alexa, all white—are having one of the worst days of their young lives. Their father has been badly burned in a fire and is in a coma, leaving the foursome to be raised by their peculiar aunt. Living with Aunt Gladys means following her unusual rules, the most important of which is to not touch the doors. This rule itself seems odd, as the rooms of Gladys’ house have archways, not doors. Equally strange is that although the rooms have no doors to close, several are filled with unattached doors in arbitrary piles. The children soon learn of the connection between doors and the memories of the people who use them, setting them on the path to unlock the mysteries of their father’s accident and their mother’s disappearance. Neilsen’s premise is better than its execution. The Rothbaum siblings’ character development is superficial, and their voices frequently run together with little distinction for individual personality. Neilsen haphazardly interjects broad humor through the story, primarily through unusually named one-dimensional adult characters. A subplot concerning the foster system is misleading and outdated, causing the humor to fall flat.

Unsuccessful; readers may be more pleased with Charles Gilman’s Lovecraft Middle School series for sci-fi fun or The Mysterious Benedict Society or A Series of Unfortunate Events for mystery and humor. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93582-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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