“Great Scott!” cried Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut. “Your mother just lost her hand in the rotating band saw!”
Thus begins the second installment of M.T. Anderson‘s AMAZING Pals in Peril series, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen (Beach Lane Books). Seriously, these books are so effing good. I read the first, Whales on Stilts!, last year, and it a) was one of the top ten books that I read last year and b) has one of the greatest first sentences OF ALL TIME:
On Career Day Lily visited her dad’s work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.
M.T. Anderson is actually kind of a wizard with first sentences. His National Book Award finalist Feed also begins brilliantly:
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
Anyways, I’m losing my point here, that point being to review The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Some background on this amazing series: it’s a hyper-intelligent, absurdist parody of all those classic children’s adventure series. In Whales on Stilts! we meet our trio of pals: Lily Gefelty, an almost painfully shy, “normal” girl; Katie Mulligan, the star of the series Horror Hollow, who is perpetually battling vampires and ghouls and the like; and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, who seems to be stuck in the 1940s and invents all sorts of absurd things to help him solve mysteries in a highly adventurous sort of way. The three of them band together to fight the afore mentioned mad scientist who tries to take over the world using mind-controlled, extremely cranky whales on stilts who shoot lasers out of their eyes. It was one of the weirdest books I had ever read, until I read The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, which is so deliciously batshit crazy that I almost fear for M.T. Anderson’s sanity in the absolute best way possible.
In The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, the pals in question are just beginning their summer vacation after having dealt with attempted apocalypse via stilt-walking whales. Tired from the exertions and so bored that Katie throws a really embarrassing temper tantrum, the trio decides to take a retreat at the Moose Tongue Lodge in the mountains of…who knows where because Jasper Dash received a coupon for a free dinner and he really does love a good deal. When they arrive they find that they aren’t the only children’s book heroes present, and what’s more, all these additional heroes were also lured to the lodge via forged free dinner coupons. When the mystery-solving and musical Hooper Quints go missing at almost the exact same time as an heiress’s priceless diamond necklace, Katie, Jasper Dash, and Lily have to decide whether to forgo their vacation and solve the mystery.
This book, like its predecessor, is almost embarrassingly funny. I was reading it on the beach with a friend and I think I a) made her feel a little self-conscious about being seen in public with me and b) made her want to read it because I couldn’t stop laughing. Now, I know that humor is a very subjective thing. When I took a young adult literature class in library school, we had to read a “funny” book that everyone said was a real knee slapper, and I don’t think I ever stopped frowning the entire time I was reading it. The humor here will appeal to those who love the bizarre – it’s really absurd, and it’s also pretty sophisticated, to the point that I’m fairly certain most of it would go right over kids’ heads. I like to imagine that M.T. Anderson wrote this series with the idea of parents or caregivers reading them aloud to their kids – there’s certainly stuff in here for the kids to enjoy, but I think that a good percentage of the writing is directed at adult readers. Almost the entire book is quotable, but here is one of my very favorite passages (because I am a librarian):
Often, if you go to a town library and under Keyword Search type ‘Jasper Dash,’ you’ll come up with a list of his books – and beside each one, it says: ‘Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.’ This means that they are no longer in circulation. Some librarian has taken them off the shelf, wiping away a tear, and has opened the book to the back, where there’s a pouch for a card dating back to the time of the Second World War, and she’ll crumple up the card, and then she and her fellow librarians will take special knives and slice away at the book and will eat the pages in big mouthfuls until the book is all gone, the whole time weeping, because they hate this duty – it is the worst part of their job – for here was a book that was once someone’s favorite, but which now is dead and empty.
Beyond the funny, though, this is a book by M.T. Anderson and, as such, there are some moments where he lets the reader peak behind the curtain and glimpse his potential for profundity. I already returned this book to the library so I can’t pull any more direct quotes, but let’s just say it actually made me cry a couple times. I’d be in the middle of reading this absolutely ludicrous passage when suddenly Anderson throws in this one sentence that so perfectly captures a fairly universal human condition that it kind of blind sided me. He’s a truly brilliant writer, and this book is just a hint of his abilities when it comes to turning on a writerly dime.
The story itself is absolutely insane and full of meta references to itself as a book and loving mockery of the genre of children’s adventure. Next time I review one of these books I will be sure to hang on to it long enough to actually include more quotes, because there’s no way I can do it justice by simply saying IT’S AMAZING AND FUNNY AND BRILLIANT JUST TRUST ME. End of story: I loved this book, I love this series, and I can’t wait to read the rest.
For music I choose “Child Star” by The Unicorns. This book is basically about of children’s book heroes all coming together because even some washed up children’s book heroes need validation of their adult existences.
Where I got it: the library
This post was a part of the Kid Lit Blog Hop on MD Book Reviews.