CM . . . .
Volume V Number 5 . . . . October 30, 1998
It didn't take long for Norbert to become part of my life. Partly because I liked company, partly because I had no choice...I mean, I couldn't just ask him to leave. By the end of the weekend, I was thinking of him almost as a brother. Sometimes older than me, sometimes younger but always a big mouth. Turned out he was older than me, and younger. He was three Jupiter years, but it takes Jupiter a bit less than twelve Earth years to orbit the sun. So he was either three or thirty-six...sometimes it was hard to say which.Norbert, the alien from Jupiter who takes up residence in Allan Dingwall's nose, turns Allan's life upside down with humorous consequences. Suddenly, 13-year-old Allan, who isn't particularly big or strong and who detests soccer and mathematics, is saying some outrageous things. The new squeaky voice emanating from Allan's nose helps him contend with and eventually outsmart the school bullies, such as Larry and Garry - - described as "big guys with flat-top haircuts and tattoos," and to attract the attention of Miranda -- a smart, pretty and athletic classmate who, according to Allan, would have no reason to notice "boring old Allan Dingwall." As well, Norbert comforts Allan as he tries to figure out his divorced parents who remind him of "two like poles of a magnet," and, most importantly, Norbert teaches Allan to stand up for himself.
Dealing with bullies, first-love and coming-of-age aren't new themes for pre-teens, but Scrimger, a talented, fresh voice in the Canadian children's literature scene, juggles these delicate issues with wit, sensitivity and a cosmic amount of creativity. The entire premise of this novel is so zany that you'd think it wouldn't work, that it would be too unbelievable to be believed. But it does succeed. And it excels on all levels. The characters, and there is a large cast, are original and incredibly real. Dialogue is crisp and lively, the setting is strong, and the plot's pace never lags.
There's only one glitch in this otherwise charming tale. At times, an adult voice intrudes on the story - for instance, when Allan refers to himself as one of "Pavlov's hospital patients" because his mouth waters at the sound of a hospital cart in the hallway. This reference may jar younger readers but might not be a distraction for Scrimger's more sophisticated audience.
From page one of The Nose from Jupiter where Allan wakes up in the hospital with a mild concussion which he, of course, blames on the loud and pushy Norbert, and where Allan observes, "Don't you hate it when everyone in the room is wearing clothes and you're not?" middle-grade readers will be captivated by Scrimger's clever and playful writing.
Cheryl Archer is Manitoba Officer for the Canadian Children's Book Centre.
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