Wednesday, 4 January 2012
Book Review: "The Exotics Book One: The Floating Menagerie" by De Kenyon
"Nobody knows what really happened when second-grader Rachael Baptiste’s mom disappeared a week ago--not her dad, not the police, and not even the members of her hobby group, the Animal Lovers’ Club. So when Rachael’s classmate Raul tries to break into her mom’s computer only to be chased away by giant talking dogs, she follows him into the night and discovers that he--and everyone in the ALC, including her mom--have caught a magical sickness that turns them into animals..."
This is a short, sharp punchy introduction to the "Exotics" series, which follows Rachael Baptiste as she tries to unravel the secrets behind her mother's disappearance.
In Rachael the author De Kenyon has drawn a heroine who is intelligent, brave, fierce and loyal. Rachael is superb: she is an open-minded girl who is able to accept bizarre truths about her existence and the world around her, and uses her new-found knowledge to influence the situations into which she stumbles.
I liked the way that Rachael (who is after all only eight) is unable to deal with the enormity of her mother's disappearance: she frequently "tries not to think" about it, and states early on that she can't do anything about it. But when she is pitched into the world of the Exotics Rachael finds she actually can do something about it, and works relentlessly to free her friends and protect her mother's secrets. Like so many of De's child-protagonists Rachel is on her own, an outsider making her way in a world of the bizarre, often pitted against adults. De doesn't write passive characters and Rachael is no exception. She's faced with the smallest glimmer of hope in an otherwise impossible scenario and not only does she come up fighting but she learns how to win.
Rachael's friend Raul introduces us to the world of the Exotics, but it is Rachael who takes charge and drives the story, sorting out friend from foe and hatching a variety of escape plots to set the scene and the tone of the series.
The story itself is fast-paced and imaginative with the ship and its denizens painted in broad, vivid strokes to create a realistic conflict within its world.
"The Floating Menagerie" serves its purpose as Book One: its own story arc is concluded but wider questions are left unanswered, paving the way for the rest of the series.
De Kenyon writes for children with the creativity of Roald Dahl and the surrealism of Lewis Carroll. This book is exciting and challenging, and everything a children's book should be.