In some kind of odd convergence, I have been reading second books this week. Usually, I read the first book in a series, and if it's good, I lazily allow myself to recommend the series without following up with the later volumes. Man, come on! There are SO many books! And totally not enough time, what with working, and shoveling snow, and US Magazine coming every Friday. And now the Olympics? Luckily, I can read and watch the Olympics at the same time - nice job, NBC. Or Canada. It's tempting to blame Canada for these snoozy late-nite Olympics, after all, "snoozy" and "Canada" go together like "Julia Mancuso" and "the Kim Kardashian of the slopes" (told you I've been reading US Magazine), but it's probably NBC's fault.
Good thing I have the books.
Regular readers of Pink Me may remember that my 8-year-old read Cryptid Hunters during the blizzard - well, that's because I couldn't wait to bring home Tentacles, but I knew he'd slurp it up before I could get my hands on it if I didn't supply him the first book first. That cover is irresistable!
Since Cryptid Hunters, I've read kind of a lot of Roland Smith. Enjoyed Peak, but I quibbled with its insufficiency of female characters. Loved I,Q unreservedly (Review here). Can't figure out why it's cataloged as Young Adult. In fact, my library splits Smith's books between the children's section and Young Adult, seemingly arbitrarily. I always question the placement.
For example: the two main characters in the cryptid books, Marty and Grace, not only face life-threatening environmental and interpersonal peril, but the emotional underpinnings of their lives are entirely swept out from under them. Their parents are missing in the Amazon. They turn out to not be siblings. They learn that the dreadful villain is in fact a family member. Jeez. It's like a Scarsdale funeral up in there.
In Tentacles, luckily, the family revelations more or less pause. Which is good, because at this point, either we're going to find out that Marty was born a girl, or that Grace's grandmother was the smoke monster on LOST. Nothing else pauses, though. The plot is still rocketing along, despite most of the action taking place aboard a ship - always a challenging setting. Unvarying scenery, static cast of characters, not too many secret caves.
But Smith gets past all that, mostly with miracle technology and a vast ship, although the zippy writing doesn't hurt! This second installment features miniature flying spy robots, disguises, betrayal, murder and accidental death, a glowing gold bathysphere, and, at long last, giant squid. In 1998, I took my young friend Will, his mom and little sister up to see a giant squid in a tank on the 5th floor of the American Museum of Natural History, and let me tell you, it was dead and bleached white by the preserving fluid, its dinner-plate eyes destroyed by marine scavengers, but it still took my breath away.
I very much question the age level for this book. My kid is a voracious and somewhat jaded reader, and Cryptid Hunters bothered him not at all, but I know plenty of more sensitive children who would be very troubled by the sudden unmooring of the main characters. I think I just pitch it older. I've given it to middle school kids by the score, and if a high schooler can get past the label on the spine, I'd hand it to a teen too.
I guess it's like that squid at the museum - Will was thrilled and excited to see a cryptid abruptly switch teams before his very eyes, while his sister Laura held her nose and winced.