By Ekta R. Garg
November 4, 2015
Genre: Middle grade fantasy mystery
Rated: Borders on Bypass it
A pre-teen boy thinks he’s headed to Florida to spend the summer with his uncle as part of a grassroots effort to curb his acting out in school. The boy ends up, instead, in a land where his uncle is a lawyer to magical creatures. When his uncle runs across one of the biggest cases of his career, the boy realizes he’ll have to help his uncle—whether he likes it or not. Author Mark Newhouse offers readers this plot in the well-conceived but poorly executed middle grade novel Welcome to Monstrovia.
Brodie Adkins doesn’t want to go to Key West, never mind the beautiful Florida beaches. Key West means spending the summer with his uncle, and Brodie doesn’t want to be with his uncle. He wants to be with his mom. Since his parents’ divorce she’s all Brodie has. But his mother is in China for the summer selling the rubber bands kids need for their braces to dentists. That means Brodie has to stay with his Uncle Jasper.
Things get out of hand right away when strange creatures greet Brodie at the airport and escort him to his uncle’s home, which he discovers is in that part of Key West known as Monstrovia. The oddities don’t stop there, however. Uncle Jasper turns out to be a lawyer who defends the magical creatures of Monstrovia, and shortly after Brodie arrives a new client comes to Uncle Jasper for help.
The teenage girl who shows up on Uncle Jasper’s doorstep brings a photograph of the family cow and a sincere request for Uncle Jasper to help her brother, Jack, get acquitted. Jack has been accused of murder. He claims the incident was an accident, but because the murder victim and his wife are giants it’s harder to ignore the widow’s claims.
Before Brodie knows what’s happening, he finds himself as involved in the case as Uncle Jasper and Emily, the sister, who is a year older than Brodie and just as exasperating as she is kind of…not. Soon enough Brodie realizes that if he wants a shot at going home, he’ll have to help Uncle Jasper out of what increasingly becomes a mystery.
Author Mark Newhouse hits all the right notes in the language for middle grade readers. The pace moves fast, as evidenced by the book opening during the near-crash landing Brodie endures into Florida. Newhouse doesn’t spend a lot of time on description, and transitions are minimal. A younger set of readers impatient to find out what happens next may find these attributes of the novel conducive to reaching the end faster.
Unfortunately the minimal description and focus on pace outdo the book’s full capabilities. Newhouse may have intended to target middle grade readers, but he lets the narrative dip too far into the world and language of that audience. Trouble spots with punctuation and odd grammar choices may distract readers from the scene at hand. Newhouse also favors the book’s plot over character development, and more advanced middle grade readers may get frustrated by the way the book skirts over the fundamentals of storytelling to get from start to finish.
I say Welcome to Monstrovia Borders on Bypass it.