________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 2004


The Boy From Earth.

Richard Scrimger.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2004.
160 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 0-88776-591-2.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proofs.


I hear Norbert's voice.

- Hey, Dingwall! he says again. I don't know where his voice is coming from. I want to tell him to shut up. I'm afraid Victor and his mom will hear him. I try to talk, but I can't. My brain doesn't seem to be attached to my mouth.

- Hey, Dingwall, pull the lever beside you. Come on, move!

I make a huge effort, and move my head. Now I can see where I am for the first time. And I realize that the dream is more complete, more detailed, and even weirder than I thought. I'm in a real working spaceship. There's instruments all around - gauges and dials and flashing lights. I can see metal brackets and coils of wire, and knobs and a single rounded window. I'm wearing a helmet, all right, and it's attached to a poufy suit. Like everything else, the suit looks green.

Sitting beside me, in a molded chair like mine, in a poufy suit and space helmet like mine, is a small figure - like a little kid, maybe three or four years old. As far as I can tell by feel, my helmet doesn't have antennae coming out of it, but his does. And his view screen is split down the middle, to make two individual screens. The kid is staring at a row of flashing lights.

It's like I'm inside a Star Wars movie, only instead of Hans Solo or Anakin Skywalker, I have -

- Be useful, Dingwall. Pull the lever!

This fourth installment in the series about the on-going adventures of 13-year-old Alan Dingwall and his other-worldly friend Norbert begins precisely where their last saga left off. Alan is on his way home from a disastrous camping trip that had been intended to bring him and his mother's (now ex) boyfriend closer together. Yet as he settles into his seat in his best friend's van, resigned to whatever grief awaits him from his mother when he gets home, he slowly becomes aware of a very peculiar sensation, almost as if he is...shrinking?! Rousing himself from what he assumes must be a dream, he finds himself seated alongside Norbert in a spaceship, a spaceship that is preparing to land on Norbert's home planet of Jupiter!

     And this is only the first of many surprises that await Alan. As he is confronted with the numerous oddities that are part of Norbert's daily life on Jupiter, he makes several extremely shocking discoveries, and not least among these are the realization that Norbert is a prince (whose mother, the queen, is not unlike his own), and that he had carefully chosen Alan, during his time on earth, to be the hero who would fulfill an ancient prophecy. Norbert has now been summoned home with the disturbing news that his beloved girlfriend, Nerissa, has been kidnaped by the loathsome villain known as the Black Dey. Thus, ready or not, the time has come for Alan to live up to his billing as a champion and vanquish this long-dreaded enemy of Norbert's people.

     In customary Richard Scrimger fashion, this book combines the quirky and offbeat with his own brand of devilishly humour. Scrimger is a veritable master at capturing the humour in the ordinary, and making us laugh at the hilarious moments that sneak up on us during average, everyday life. Even on Jupiter! He displays a real knack for creating realistic dialogue, and the voices of his characters, particularly Alan and Norbert, are convincing and true. He is able to make his characters think and say what they need to, and should be, thinking and saying without it ever sounding forced or contrived. This approach enables his characters to be most appealing as we empathize with their human (or alien) imperfections.

     Of course, from a child's point of view, not only is this book delightfully funny, but it is equally to be described as just plain FUN! The Boy From Earth has a brisk-paced plot with a unique and interesting setting. Young readers will enjoy traversing Norbert's home planet alongside him and Alan. The marvelous range of supporting characters is yet another bonus. From Norbert's mother (the queen) to Wilma the baseball-crazed Front Desk frog at Bogway Park Lodge, from the Jim and his long-lost (but equally cantankerous) brother the Dale, to the affable knights of Ich, this book provides page after page of unique creatures that cannot fail to amuse young and older readers. After all, how can one keep from snorting with laughter (yes, snorting!) as one visualizes Alan's efforts to master the use of his Flying Slippers and become "sid" at the art of flying? The author even includes a healthy dose of subtle humour (I was especially fond of the occasional references to appropriate country music lyrics). This book is yet another Scrimger tale that parents will enjoy reading aloud with their children or that a teacher could read aloud to a class.

     As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I was disappointed by the ending. Readers of these books have come to expect each one to be its own complete story that can stand on its own, apart from the others in the series. This one, on the other hand, is of the to-be-continued variety, where readers are left hanging just after Alan makes his brilliant discovery of the location of the Lost Schloss. While readers will highly anticipate the next book now, I had expected some sort of resolution at the end of this one. I also found the dream in which Alan returns to his own world but not as himself but as the Black Dey to be confusing and unnecessary. And, while I am exceedingly interested in learning more about why the Black Dey is essentially Alan's evil twin in the next saga, I think that its significance could have been addressed more completely herein.

     Yet these observations notwithstanding, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. Whether you've already read and loved the previous stories or you are just meeting Alan and his zany friend for the first time, this book will no doubt delight. It is a must-have for any library, especially since it is a great book to recommend to reluctant boy readers (I particularly love how Scrimger portrays the friendship between Alan and Norbert. For example, at the very moment that Alan realizes that poor Norbert is overcome with emotion and is on the verge of tears, he thinks, "I can't put my arm around him, I just can't. But I feel bad. I should do something. I decide to punch him in the shoulder. He nods and pokes me in the stomach. So we're good." Similarly, Norbert is only able to convey the things he admires in his friend when he is talking in his sleep, discussing in his dreams the reasons why he finds Alan's low self-esteem so frustrating. "Dingwall should like himself more," he says. "He's funny and creative. He's a good friend. Oh, except for the nose picking..."). But rest assured, girls too will love this witty, imaginative and lighthearted romp with the Boy From Earth and his myriad of new acquaintances and wacky adventures.

Highly Recommended.

Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

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

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