CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007
Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help.
Douglas Anthony Cooper.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2007.
225 pp., cloth, $19.95.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
"My son doesn't need Professional Help!"
"Would you prefer he had Unprofessional Help?"
The father of Melrose Munce, whose name was (unfortunately) Mortimer Munce, was stymied by this response. "Well no."
"There you go. So Professional Help it is."
"What if he requires no help at all?"
"Then he will be helpless."
Mortimer Munce, who was less talented than his son in the art of the quick response, was quite silenced by this argument.
And so the father of Milrose Munce signed the papers.
Douglas Anthony Cooper is the author of Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help. The "about the author" section on the dust jacket of the book describes Cooper as being "widely loathed." This may, or may not, be true, but Cooper will, no doubt, garner a wide following of enthusiastic supporters for his work on Milrose Munce.
Cooper crafts school relationships that will ring true for many readers. Many teenagers will hear echoes of their own school experiences between the covers of Milrose Munce
"But why, sir?"
"It should be obvious."
"But it's not!"
"Then you can spend the detention pondering that question. I hope that you figure it out."
This was the closest thing to wit that Mr. Borborygmus had ever displayed, and Milrose was impressed.
The thing that makes Milrose Munce's school life a departure from the norm is that he shares the school, not just with teachers and fellow students, but also with many ghosts. What is it with ghosts and schools? (Harry Potter and Moaning Myrtle have a lot to answer for). I have a daughter in grade two who has convinced her four-year-old sister that a ghost inhabits the girls' bathroom at school. While this may consign my youngest daughter to some uncomfortable afternoons when she eventually becomes a schoolgirl, the ghosts at Milrose Munce's school will doubtless tickle the funny bone of many young adult readers.
Milrose's dead friends and acquaintances include Hurled Harry, Deeply Damaged Dave, Cryogenic Kelvin, Poisoned Percy, Bored Beulah and Third Degree Thor, who is "so revolting that it would not be in good taste to describe him here." These ghosts have all met an unfortunate demise whilst under the (supposed) care of the school.
As a character, Milrose Munce, is quite the character. He has a peculiar attraction to females with birthmarks. He is also sarcastic and quick-witted. By and large, he doesn't mind the company of ghosts. Indeed, he often prefers it to the company of the living. Unfortunately for Milrose, his teachers cannot see the ghosts with whom Milrose converses. As such, it appears to many that Milrose spends much of his time in animated conversation with himself. As a result, Milrose is sent to Massimo Natica for Professional Help. Although I have not yet received Professional Help, I imagine that Massimo's approach is rather unconventional. After all, Massimo torments Milrose and his friend, Arabella Smith, with a pitchfork, a cattle prod and a rusty medieval mace.
Massimo's methods perhaps reflect Cooper's inner thoughts about psychiatry or related fields. Cooper seems also determined to pass comment on the United States…
He compares the Den of Professional help to certain prisons: "Milrose Munce could imagine a handful of prisons that might compete with the Den of Professional Help—in the Third World or Texas, for instance—but that was about it."
Cooper gives a nod toward U.S. military policy, when he describes a plan to bring ghosts from all three floors of the school together for a "coordinated assault" against the Den of Professional Help. The ghosts from the separate floors, of course, form a "coalition of the willing." Sound familiar? And what about the description of Poisoned Percy's woeful poetry as a "weapon of mass destruction?" A deceased American President may also be receiving an oblique nod when talk turns to "win[ning] this one for the Gipper! Go, ghouls!"
Alongside seemingly poking fun at neighbours to the south, there is much clever word play in the dialogue:
"Hang on. You mean if Dad hadn't signed these papers, I would have been free?"
"Let's not concentrate on the past. It's the future which we're now looking forward to."
"That's not the past. It's ten minutes ago!"
"The past ten minutes. Have passed."
"The case is open!"
"That's not the case."
"What do you mean? That is the case. It's where the cattle prod's always kept!"
"No, I mean that's not the case. That the case, in this case, is open."
Elsewhere, to mention but a few instances, his teacher's patience is tried because Milrose is not trying, a ceiling is not exceptional, with one exception, and a depression in her bed depresses Arabella. It is all very cleverly done and makes for an enjoyable and, often, very funny read.
There is no doubting that Milrose Munce is well written. Cooper writes with the sharp, biting wit with which he has endowed his protagonist. Cooper seems to enjoy "stirring the pot," agitating for the fun of it. Milrose Munce is fun. It also gets one thinking. Those who enjoy modern fantasy and comedy will undoubtedly enjoy their time in the Den of Professional Help.
Gregory Bryan teaches children's literature at the University of Manitoba where he has not yet seen any ghosts.
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