________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 17. . . .April 17, 2009.


Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate.

Adrienne Kress.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2009.
414 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99042-4.

Subject Headings:
Fantasy Fiction.
Dragons-Juvenile fiction.
Humorous stories.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Karen Taylor.





There are certain phrases you never really expect to hear. And because you never really expect to hear them, you can't really say what those phrases might be until you do hear them. But of course when you do hear them, you are somehow totally certain that that phrase is something you never expected to hear. Despite not knowing that you hadn't expected to hear it.

"Quick, everyone! Into the helicopter!" was definitely one of those phrases.

Timothy did not quite know what he should make of the crazy man's order, and so instead decided to not make any decisions on the subject and just follow him. Crawling around behind where Mr. Shen was sitting, the crazy man pushed open a small door that led from their cramped cab into the large trailer that it dragged behind them and stepped inside. Mr. Shen followed, and then Timothy, who took one final glance out the window to see the black cabs fast approaching.

"Let's not dawdle, now," said the crazy man, flipping a switch. Instantly the trailer was filled with light, except for the places that were in shadow due to a large purple helicopter sitting, minding its own business, in the centre.

"Look, a helicopter!" pointed out Mr. Shen, turning to Timothy.

"Really? Where?" said Timothy dryly. As Mr. Shen looked at him with a puzzled expression, Timothy walked past and approached the crazy man, who was already inside the flying machine. "Who are you?" he asked.

Adrienne Kress’ second novel, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, follows 11-year-old Timothy Freshwater’s remarkable journey to China in order to help return the elderly Mr. Shen to his dragon form before the end of the New Year celebrations. On his way, Timothy escapes a trio of deadly black cabs, is captured and almost killed by a ninja (from Saskatchewan no less), jumps from a helicopter, and gets nicked by a bullet all of which happens at the beginning of his adventure!

     Having falling thousands of metres into the ocean from a jet plane, Timothy is rescued by Alex and the crew of the Ironic Gentleman, characters and a pirate ship familiar to readers of Kress’ first novel, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. After hearing his story, Alex urges the crew to help him get to China and to rescue the by now kidnapped Mr. Shen. Timothy seems determined to avoid investing himself or his emotions in people and events as much as he avoids investing in himself. Maybe it’s because his mother, an unsuccessful actress who works in another city, and his father, a low level office worker who doesn’t know how to raise a boy who has been expelled from every school in the city, are unable to give him the family life he desires. Timothy can be surly and ungrateful, and, typical of children his age, he often responds with a bored “whatever” to the most amazing things. It isn’t until he meets Alex (and learns to play fan-tan) that he begins to see himself in a different light and to take responsibility for his actions.

     Kress’ narrative voice is refreshing and fun. She is capable of restating the obvious in an intelligently humorous way that never gets tired. Her witty phrasing and gentle satire are engaging and add another layer of enjoyment to the wacky antics of this eclectic mishmash of characters which ranges from pirates to a schoolteacher, fighting monks and a daredevil billionaire not to mention the brave 10 1/2-year-old sword fighting Alex, and young Timothy.

     Kress is also a master of the metafictive with which the narrative is pleasantly sprinkled. Some of these elements are particularly well applied and really funny as in this comment by the narrator: “Sir Geoffrey casually raised his crutch and used it to bang on the door. There is something to be said for a man who can use a crutch so elegantly, but what that is, I haven’t the foggiest.” Readers will enjoy clever word plays such as: “[O]nly one person ever got to experience [the top floor view]. That person was owner and CEO of the Appliance, Furniture and Rubber Gloves Consortium, Evans Bore (a short, round, absentminded fellow whose favourite joke was introducing himself to people as a ‘fridge magnate’).” From the laugh-out loud commentary to the outrageous characters and the extreme circumstances in which they find themselves, this book is hard to put down – kids will love it, especially 8 to 11 year olds.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Taylor is doing her MA in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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