CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 32. . . .April 23, 2010
Zoobreak, the sequel to 2007’s Swindle, proves itself worthy as yet another entry in the already long list of successful novels by best-selling author Gordon Korman. A zany, fast-paced plot, zinging dialogue, likable characters, and the always-appealing “Kids versus Grown-ups” scenario all add up to another likely hit for Korman.
The same cast of characters that appeared in Swindle return in Zoobreak, but this time the ante has been upped: the swindle that propels the plot of the second book is far more heinous than a simple baseball card theft. This time, the object thieved is a living creature, one of the many beloved pets belonging to budding animal activist Savannah Drysdale. Worse yet, Savannah and her sixth grade classmates soon discover that her dear sweet capuchin monkey, Cleopatra, is not the only kidnapping victim. On a school trip to a “floating zoo” that has docked on the North Shore of Long Island, not far from their Connecticut community, Savannah finds Cleopatra locked inside one of the crowded cages of All Aboard Animals. Instantly, she and the gang are suspicious of the provenance of the motley collection of animals filling the cages of the aged paddleboat run by the slimy Mr. Nastase. Suspicions about where the animals have come from aside, the students are quickly horrified by the conditions in which the animals are kept. Predictably, Savannah declares that they must rescue not only her monkey, but all of the zoo’s animals. The impossibility of such a task daunts everyone but – who else? – The Man With The Plan, Griffin Bing. And so the reader is drawn into the ever more tangled web of deception that Griffin and his sometimes reluctant aides must weave in order to free the furry and feathered victims of All Aboard Animals.
Part of this sequel’s success comes from the way Korman has taken the framework of his earlier book and expanded on it: in Zoobreak, the crime central to the story is far greater, and so the plan needed to outwit the perpetrators must be far more complex. What Griffin, Ben, Savannah, Logan, and Melissa manage to pull off is really quite remarkable. Their animal rescue mission involves midnight escapes; long-distance travel over land and sea (no small feat for suburban 11-year-olds with limited transportation options!); highly skilled acting; disabling a big, burly and rather bad-tempered security guard; freeing, transporting, keeping-from-eating-one-another, and housing a whole slew of live animals; and finally breaking into the highly secure Long Island Zoological Garden to release their live charges into a much more humane life in captivity. Child readers are sure to enjoy the dramatic ups and downs of this plan as it develops, overcomes a whole lot of suspenseful monkey wrenches, and is finally executed almost completely. As delightfully far-fetched as Griffin’s scheme is, it would definitely lose believability points in the eyes of critical readers if it were to come off entirely without a hitch. Korman’s denouement is the perfect combination of suspense, danger, near-failure, disappointment, and, at last, comeuppance for the bad guys and (mitigated) triumph for the good guys. Even though the young zoobreakers do get caught and properly reprimanded for all their breaking, entering, and “temporary borrowing” of both equipment and creatures, they are rewarded in the end for their determined animal rights work, and Mr. “Nasty” gets his just desserts. Best of all, Griffin and Ben, who on top of this crazy zoobreak they’ve been managing, have also been dealing with the looming threat of possible separation, are once again out of the woods. Thanks to his frisky new rodent pal, Ferret Face, Griffin’s narcoleptic pal will not have to go off to a special boarding school/sleep clinic after all, and so the two best friends will remain together – and it never would have happened without the wild zoobreak plan.
While Zoobreak is, at times, so outlandish as to verge on the truly ridiculous and is unlikely to provoke much deep thinking in its readers, it is beyond all doubt a really fun read. For budding animal rights activists, adventure lovers, and every kid who ever dreamed of putting one over on an adult, this is a great book to fall into for a good while.
Tara Williston is a Children’s Librarian in Vancouver, BC.
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