CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 25. . . .March 2, 2012
Blockbuster. (Zac Power).
H.I. Larry. Illustrated by Andy Hook.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2012.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Karen Rankin.
It seemed slightly weird to Zac that GIB would send a flashy gold blimp to pick him up. Normally GIB was paranoid about being noticed.
But Zac didn't dwell on his doubts for too long. The blimp was even cooler inside than it looked from the outside!
The cabin was carpeted with white fluffy rugs. There were mounds of chocolate bars in crystal bowls dotted around the cabin.
And, although the blimp could have carried lots of people, it looked like Zac was the only passenger.
A woman in a long, white apron appeared. Zac had never seen her before. Strange, he thought. He knew pretty much all the local GIB staff. Maybe she's from the Hollywood office?
"Please make yourself comfortable, Mr. Power," she said smoothly.
Zac's reclining seat was soft and wide. He had never travelled in such comfort!
"You can access all the latest movies here," explained the woman, pointing to a massive plasma screen. "And this," she continued, as a machine sprang out of Zac's armrest, "is your personal popcorn popper."
The trip was ten hours, which wasn't long enough to enjoy everything on the blimp. First, Zac watched a movie. Then he had a foot massage and head rub. Then he discovered the in-seat virtual reality roller-coaster rides.
He was still riding Iron Gutz, the world's first virtual reality rollercoaster [sic], when suddenly he felt a bump for real.
Zac checked the time on his SpyPad. It was 3:03 a.m. – nearly time to touch down. Perhaps the bump Zac felt was just the blimp coming in to land?
Twelve-year-old Zac Power is an international spy working for the government agency, GIB. In Blockbuster, the ninth book in the "Zac Power" series, he is excused from his school's Homework Club and given an invitation to a movie in Hollywood. Unbeknownst to him, the invitation is from an enemy spy organization, BIG. Zac is transported to Hollywood - "the strangest of all strange places" – in a gold-covered blimp. When Zac arrives in Hollywood, GIB tracks him down and gives him a mission: find a camera that the sinister people at Cinemania (a division of BIG) have invented to read people's minds and get it – or a prototype – to his GIB boss within 12 hours. Before completing his mission, Zac is chased by android guards, mistaken for a stunt-boy, forced to wrestle a grizzly bear, and much, much more.
This 90-page (approximately 8,000-word) story is action-packed and full of the stuff of many 10-year-old boys' fantasies, from rides in or on a stretch Hummer, a golf cart, a Harley Davidson, and a helicopter, to a defensive PitStink capsule. Blockbuster may, therefore, appeal to reluctant readers.
However, despite all of the action and glitz, much of this book – with its predictable ending – feels flat. Readers learn that Zac is vain and a fairly quick thinker, but little else about his personality is revealed. Until the final two chapters of the book, this reader never experienced Zac's sense of urgency, his fear – or possibly joy – at jumping from the roof of a building onto a moving vehicle, his doubts – or possibly joy – at riding in a driverless Hummer, and so forth. Furthermore, with words such as subliminal messages, prototype, Bluetooth compatible, short-circuit, and so on, the story's vocabulary is likely too sophisticated for most young, reluctant readers. And finally, a number of the story's plot points make no sense. For instance, Cinemania's diabolical camera reads people's minds, yet its operator says she intends to brainwash Zac. Ultimately, Blockbuster may appeal only to readers who are in a rush to get their required reading over with. Unfortunately, rather than enticing these children into further reading, Blockbuster may be more likely to put them off books and fiction all-together. Having read Deep Waters, a much earlier installment in the "Zac Power" series, this reader was disappointed by the author's latest.
Recommended with reservations.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children's stories.
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