Thursday, September 22, 2011
Books We Love: “Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes” by Jonathan Auxier
Book review by Jack Silbert
We book critics take the platitude “Don’t judge a book by its cover” extremely literally. And literarily. So this book can thank me (in some alternate reality where books have sentience), for splashed across its cover are the words, “Boy’s First Name, Boy’s Last Name and …” as the title construction. Below that, an illustration of a tousle-haired lad sneaking across dark, mysterious rooftops of what I’d hazard a guess is London. For the cover-judgers out there, and perhaps in the dark hearts of publishers’ marketing wings, it all might conjure a certain popular children’s book series, you know the one, with the wizards and owls and what-have-you. But despite appearances, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is not remotely a Hogwartian knockoff. It’s a fresh and fun adventure with some familiar elements refashioned into something new. Perhaps too many F’s in that last sentence, but I’m sticking with it.
Before I continue, two admissions in the interest of full disclosure:
2) Perhaps I should recuse myself from writing this review, as I know the author, Jonathan Auxier. Now, we’ve only hung out twice: darts on the west coast and a slice of pizza on the east coast. (Thank goodness it wasn’t the reverse, as California pizza is utter crap.) I am confident that I can proceed in an unbiased fashion. Also, I bought the book with my own money, unlike those so-called “professional” reviewers who get free copies. So now who’s biased, huh?
Still with me? Good. Let’s continue.
Admirably, he avoids the Scooby-Doo-esque kid-mystery elements (zany heists and the like) that I felt marred that series of wizard movies based on the series of wizard books that I didn’t read. Auxier doesn’t talk down to his readers; things are happening on a slightly more mature plane. That being said, there is some violence, there is some killing. It didn’t feel overly graphic—more often the violence is referred to rather than seen. But for sensitive or younger children, you might want to read the book first or, better yet, read it together.
The book’s narrator is a bit of a wiseass, bringing a lot of humor to the proceedings. This is via somewhat dubious “facts” and also fourth-wall observations such as “If ever you have had the chance to spend quality time with a villainous mastermind, you will know that these people are extraordinarily fond of discussing their evil schemes out loud.” But the clever narration never overwhelms the prose, or gets in the way of the action. It simply raises the writing level up a notch; there’s artfulness here. Indeed, Auxier has an excellent handle on stoking the story’s forward momentum, A leading to B leading to C, while the action gets more frenzied. (Though never muddled: The writing is sharp and clear. And if a key event happened earlier in the book, the narrator gently reminds us.) All the while, he weaves in some positive, tried-and-true children’s-fiction tropes: It’s okay to be different, your shortcomings can work to your advantage, friends are important, never give up—but Auxier never hits us over the head with them.
Still, I think Canucks and non-Canucks alike can appreciate this book. I’d say it’s primarily for 8- to 12-year-olds, smart boys first (who will know when Auxier is teasing), then adventure-loving boys, then smart and/or adventure-loving girls. There is a strong female character but she only emerges about halfway into the book. Otherwise, it’s fairly boy-heavy.
Are you someone who just skips to the last paragraph of reviews? If so, let me state for the record: I enjoyed Jonathan Auxier’s debut novel Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes quite a lot, and I think kids will too. Could there be a movie? There are a couple of battles and a combo man-cat-horse creature that I think might work better on the screen versus what I could summon in my (admittedly no-longer-a-kid) imagination. Sequels? The conclusion doesn’t demand them, but with robust sales, who knows? Peter may discover a fantastic elbow, spleen, pinky toe ….
Jack Silbert is a writer of children's books, restaurant reviews, witty essays, and the like. He lives in Hoboken, N.J.
Link to author Jonathan Auxier’s blog or Tweet him at @JonathanAuxier.
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