By Ekta R. Garg
January 7, 2015
Rated: Borrow it
A young boy escapes his life as a chimney sweep and finds himself carried away—literally—to a fantastic place where he meets a mysterious man with unusual talents. The boy joins the man’s coterie and becomes his apprentice, but the apprenticeship only marks the beginning of the boy’s adventures. Author Gregory Funaro gives middle grade readers this ambitious but somewhat uneven story in Alistair Grim’s Odditorium.
Twelve-year-old Grubb doesn’t remember his parents. For as long as he’s known, he’s lived with Mr. and Mrs. Smears. When Mrs. Smears dies, however, Grubb’s life changes; gone is the affection he gets from the motherly figure in his life. Instead, Mr. Smears trains Grubb in the ways and work of a chimney sweep, and Grubb has no illusions about why Mr. Smears teaches him about the profession: Grubb does the dirty work, and Mr. Smears drinks away Grubb’s pay.
On a day that seems ordinary, Grubb finds himself in a position to get away from Mr. Smears and his days cleaning soot and grime from inside brick columns. Grubb takes his chances and leaves. He doesn’t know where he’s going, only that anything has to be better than life as Mr. Smear’s lackey.
Grubb realizes, however, that his new life has its own challenges. He ends up at Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, where pocket watches ask what time it is and samurai warriors with blue lights for eyes guard secrets. Alistair Grim himself seems to pull magic out of his socks, and Grubb doesn’t know quite what to think of it all. When Mr. Grim gets cornered into displaying the wonders of his Odditorium for the public, Grubb thinks he can help—until a small mistake throws all of Mr. Grim’s plans off course. Suddenly Grubb goes from being Mr. Grim’s apprentice to being the only one who can save the Odditorium at all.
Author Gregory Funaro creates fun, relatable characters. Readers will enjoy Grubb’s storytelling style; he knows when to defer to others in a sweet, smile-inducing manner. Funaro gives readers a main character who is easy to cheer for and one with redeeming qualities from the start of the book to its end.
Grubb tells the story in first person, and Funaro maintains that fine line between too much information from his protagonist and not enough information from the other characters. Readers won’t feel like they’re missing anything from either Grubb or the characters around him. They might wonder, though, why Grubb is telling the story when the book’s title contains the name of a different character.
The book’s weakest point comes in the descriptions of the Odditorium’s “wonders” as well as the action scenes. Funaro offers too much information in both, making the action hard to track and some of the wonders in the Odditorium hard to understand. Some of the younger readers in the 8-12 target audience may get a little frustrated with all of the information. Also, the climax feels rushed, and the ambivalent end may make readers wonder whether they should look forward to a sequel.
Still, the book does offer some enjoyable moments. Readers may want to check Alistair Grim’s Odditorium out from the library.