Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom!: A member of the male species dares to step foot into our YA world. See More...

I Smell Smoke in the Odditorium

Gregory Funaro's middle grade novel shows us that that there are alternatives to that letter from Hogwarts.

I Smell Smoke in the Odditorium

BOOK REPORT for Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Cover Story: Tim Burton Presents
Drinking Buddy/BBF Charm: Begging Your Pardon, Sir...
Testosterone Level: Did I Mention There Was a Ninja?
Talky Talk: Secret Places
Bonus Factors: Merry Old England, Ninjas
Bromance Status: Childhood Friend

By an odd coincidence, I was reading this book to my eight-year-old daughter Sophie when FYA received a request to review it. I thought I'd include Sophie's comments as well.

Dumbledore dies?

Cover Story: Tim Burton Presents

Brian: This thing has a real creepy Corpse Bride vibe to it. I like how we get to see what the Odditorium looks like, as it rather defies description. On the other hand, the building is either much smaller than described or Mr. Grim is eleven feet tall. This book is filled with other Gothic illustrations.

Sophie: If you read the book before you see the cover, it’s exactly like you imagine the Odditorium to be. I like the style of drawing (of the interior illustrations). It seems easy to draw.

The Deal:

So Grubb (Just like the worm, but with two Bs!) is an orphan who works for Mr. Smears, a chimney sweep. Things were okay while Mrs. Spears, God rest her, was still around. But now Grubb works all day cleaning soot out of disgusting flues, while Mr. Smears barely feeds him to keep him skinny. But one day Grubb screws up big time and runs away, hiding in the coach of a rich gentleman named Alistair Grim.

And then the coach takes flight...

Grubb finds himself in the Odditorium, a hidden-in-plain-sight museum of magical artifacts and populated by a weird collection of curators. Aside from the mysterious Mr. Grim, there's a witch, a cute banshee, an ill-mannered fairy, a talking Scottish watch, and a charming giant who was hanged for murder a few years ago. Unsure of what to do with Grubb, they take him on as an employee of the Odditorium.

Of course there's an evil plot to take over the world, spectral dogs, marauding trolls, and a kindly female ninja to deal with. Oh, and the Odditorium can fly.

Sure beats the lonely life of a sweep, don't it?

Drinking Buddy/BBF Charm: Begging Your Pardon, Sir...

Brian: Seriously, Grubb begins like ever sentence like that. And a lot of the characters are either stock heroes/villains or just annoying. For instance, there's the aptly named Lord Dreary, whose only purpose seems to be repeating everything Mr. Grim says in the form of a question.

On the other hand, this book is great escapism, especially for middle grade readers. Grubb is a loveable loser who suddenly is whisked away to a magical land where he'll live happily ever after. And when he's older, he can down a pint and compare stories with Cinderella, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Oliver Twist.

Sophie: They’re the kind of characters that you’d expect to be in a story like this: a grumpy old lady, a banshee, a really weird guy, a kid with a really bad job, stuff like that.

Would you want to hang out with them?

Heck yes! What do you think? I mean, a magic guy who can play an organ, and a dead guy who was brought back to life and is powered by magic? Why would you not want to hang out with them?

Testosterone Level: Did I Mention There Was a Ninja?

Brian: Yeah, there are aerial battles, arena combat, political intrigue, and mysteries concerning Grubb's past. And robot samurai. That's always a plus.

Sophie: Yes, I think it was exciting. Like when Grubb fights the bad guy to save Cleona the Banshee and he climbed a wall.

Why was that exciting?

You try climbing a steep rock wall on the side of a castle!

Talky Talk: Secret Places

Brian: One of the reasons I like books like this is that I never gave up my twelve-year-old belief that there were secret places that only a select few know about. And that one day, I may be invited to enter. A hidden encampment where soldiers of fortune train. A cave, filled with pirate gold. A school of witchcraft and wizardry. That place in France where the naked ladies dance.

The Odditorium was completely over the top, but it still appealed to me. Hey, maybe there really is a mad collector living right in my neighborhood, and one day he'll invite me to look at his artifacts. And maybe let me fire the lightning guns.

Sophie: I would recommend this book: magic objects, good fairies, bad fairies, people brought back from the dead, and demons...why would you not want to read this book?

Bonus Factors: Merry Old England

Sophie: Well, almost every magic book is based in England. And how many kids are named Grubb?

Bonus Factor: Ninjas

Brian: So while Grubb is being held captive in a dungeon, he meets a cute ninja girl named Kiyoko. She's very thankful when Grubb uses McClintock the talking watch to break them out. How brave he is! How gallant! How...oops, here come the bad guys. Grubb, be a dear and face the wall. I don't want you watch what I'm about to do. You'll have nightmares.

Bromance Status: Childhood Friend

While I've kind of grown out of my love for middle grade books, The Odditorium takes me back to the times when me and my buddies battled the evil gang of terrorists I'm sure was living in the woods behind my house. Thanks for the memories.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor beer for this review (dammit). Alistar Grim's Odditorium is available now.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.