________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007


Alex and the Ironic Gentleman.

Adrienne Kress.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
382 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99668-6.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Caitlin J. Berry.

**** /4


What is a bad sign? Perhaps one that has mud all over it, so you can’t read how far it is until the next rest stop. Or perhaps one that is so rebellious that no matter how many times you write “Danger: Falling Rocks Ahead” it insists on saying “Do Come Over Here and Stand Under this Precariously Teetering Boulder.” Or maybe one written in a non-existent language, like Flurbit.

I am sure you have seen such a sign, but the bad sign I am about to talk about isn’t a piece of cardboard, or metal, or synthetic material with writing or a picture on it. In this case, it was a  broken window. And a door. If you just saw a broken window and a door on the side of the road, you probably would think someone was renovating their house, and not take it as anything you needed to think about. But when Alex saw the broken window and the door, she thought, “Something isn’t right.” Because these bad signs were still very much attached to her house.

You see, when she had left the house that morning, as far as she could recall, the window in the front of her uncle’s shop hadn’t been broken. And also, while they had always had a door, it usually was on both its hinges and not just dangling off one. And this made Alex suspicious.

Ten-year-old Alex Morningside (who lives with her uncle above his door knob shop) realizes she’s going to have an interesting year, indeed, when she meets Mr. Underwood, her new year-six teacher at Wigpowder-Steele Academy. He immediately becomes Alex’s favourite: he’s young and energetic; he knows fascinating facts about, well, everything; he is an excellent fencer; and oh, yes, and he is related  to the infamous pirate, Wigpowder, and is the heir to a marvelous  fortune of long lost buried treasure.

     When the notorious pirate, Steele, of the dread ship The Ironic Gentleman, sends henchmen to Alex’s town to kidnap Mr. Underwood, Alex’s beloved uncle is accidentally killed. Alex (a resourceful one, you’ll soon learn) knows what she must do. Having already found the  map to the buried treasure, she sets off on a journey towards Port Cullis, the seaside town, to find The Ironic Gentleman in order to rescue Mr. Underwood.

     Followed closely by the villainous old women of Daughters of the Founding Fathers Preservation Society (who had been guarding the map to the treasure in the Steele mansion where Alex found it), Alex  begins a series of bizarre and indelible adventures. Alex narrowly escapes a train car in which time (by way of some strange wormhole) does not pass; Alex stumbles onto a movie set and settles the score between the foul-mooded producer and the movie’s star, The Extremely Ginormous Octopus (who laments his tragic replacement with a computer generated monster); Alex is hired as a personal assistant to hotelier Lord Popinjay at a deserted inn where she befriends a giant talking refrigerator, and the hotel staff inexplicably breaks into musical numbers. All of this, mind you, before she arrives in Port Cullis and goes to sea, where, of course, the Grand Rescue of Mr. Underwood is brought to delightful and unexpected fruition. Yet, Alex, being Alex, takes it all in stride and, with graciousness, solves the problems of ridiculous grown-ups (not to mention gigantic thespian cephalopods) while, along the way, leaving peace and adoration in her wake.

     With Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, first-time novelist, Adrienne Kress, gives readers a fresh, action-packed and hilarious adventure that is also oftentimes thought provoking and mind-bending (albeit in a good sort of mind-bending way). Kress’s narrative voice is witty, friendly, addictive and is oftentimes snortingly funny. Each one of the generous cast of characters is impressively authentic, multi-faceted and loveable in his or her assortment of oddities (for this makes them all the more human). Alex is as smart as a whip (smarter than most of the grown-ups, combined), yet still very true to her age due to her innocence and unconditional acceptance of the way things are (not to mention her ubiquitous bowl hair-cut which makes everyone think she’s a boy).

     Despite the whimsy and frenetic adventures, the crafting of the novel is watertight, and, although the tone is zany, indeed, sadness and tragedy lurk not far below the surface; Kress does not shy away from death or violence, but instead deals with the topics in a knowing and calm manner, and this adds even more depth to the tale. Kids, she acknowledges, indeed, know death and shades of darkness, and oftentimes all too well. In this way, Kress (whether intended or not)  gives the young audience a respectful nod and shows them the healthy thing to do: to grieve and to feel their feelings, but also to do the only other healthy thing, which is to move forward and forge new  relationships.

     Yet, at heart, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is no tragedy. Rather, it is a book, the pages of which are to be rationed; a story that is a surefire cure for anyone’s foul mood (induced by, say, a bad bowl haircut). Indeed, with Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, Kress has created something shining and bright; something philosophically sound, with pages that oft compel one to put the book down for further pondering. With Alex and her world, Kress has created a story that not only children will enjoy, but also one of those rare stories that, undoubtedly, will touch the child that still lives inside us all.

Highly Recommended.

Caitlin Berry is a graduate of Vermont College’s Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She is also a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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