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...

Doomsday Down Under Style

What happens when you combine a close-knit group of friends, a female comic book artist, and the end of the world? Brian and his nine-year-old daughter Sophie review Melissa Keil's illustrated book The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Doomsday Down Under Style

BOOK REPORT for The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Cover Story: Chicks With Guns
Drinking Buddy: Mind if We Call You Bruce?
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Australian
Talky Talk: Too Many Subplots
Bonus Factors: Australia, Comics
Bromance Status: The Old Gang

Cover Story: Chicks With Guns

And I don't mean rifles.

Great picture of the titular (snicker) character. The book is filled with Alba's sketches of Cinnamon Girl and her friends, acting out scenes of the book in a superheroic fashion.

Incidentally, this is an American release of an Australian book. Here's the original cover.

Which is your favorite?

The Deal:

So Alba lives in the absolute backwater town of Eden Valley, Australia. She works in her mother's bakery, draws a comic book The Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, hangs out with her best guy friend Grady, as well as the four other members of her posse (there used to be a fifth, a chubby boy named Daniel, but he moved away a long time ago). Life is good.

But nothing stays the same. Graduation is upon them, and everyone is going their separate ways. Except for Alba. She'd be just fine staying in her home town. Too bad everyone else has dreams that involve moving to Melbourne and Perth. And why is Grady, her best pal since diapers, suddenly getting so weird? What's going on behind that deliciously thick head of curly hair? What can't he share with Alba?

Of course, this all takes a back seat when some YouTube psychic claims that the end of the world is coming on New Year's Day, and the only safe place in the world will be Eden Valley, Australia. Suddenly, the little down is invaded by hordes of hippies, head cases, religious nuts, news crews, and genuine freaks. The local businesses love it and Alba's friends get a kick out of what's shaping up to be one crazy summer.

But someone else comes to town. Daniel, the fat little boy in the Muppet Babies cap. Only now he's all grown up. Really, really grown up. He's on a soap opera, he's mentioned in the gossip columns, and he has abs! And it turns out, he misses Eden Valley, the small town life, and his friend Alba. He's really missed her.

What's a superhero to do?

Drinking Buddy: Mind if We Call You Bruce?

Brian: If you didn't have a gang like Alba's in high school, it's too bad. I think it would have been fun to have been a member of that group of creative oddballs. Alba was especially fun: a creative, self-assured, chubby and proud girl who can draw. On the other hand, she seems content to bake tarts and draw comics, but never take pride in her skills at creating either. You don't have to wait for a guy to tell you that you have talent, Alba.

Sophie: Alba was very mushy, but the scene where she thought something bad had happened to Grady was good.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Australian

Brian: I was really thinking the whole end of the world/comic book aspect would be more of a driving force in the novel. Turns out, it was all background. I could tell Sophie was disappointed that Cinnamon Girl never showed up in real life to save the day.

As for the romance angle, Alba is so frustratingly oblivious that it seemed forced. 'Goodness, Grady seems so moody and strange since he realized we're going to be apart for the first time ever. He won't even participate in the platonic, snuggly sleepovers we used to have! And he gets so agitated when Daniel talks to me. He even got violent when he found out Daniel tried to give me diet tips. Seriously, what's going on here?'

The reader figures it out in chapter one. It takes Alba the whole book.

Also, Alba's friends are more worldly, making this is kind of a PG-13 book. I'm glad I read this one out loud to Sophie, as I didn't need her asking me what a condom is.

Sophie: I do not think the romance level was very good. It was very obvious that Alba and Grady were going to end up together. (Sophie said this without a hint from her father)

Talky Talk: Too Many Subplots

Brian: The thing about subplots is they have to be integral to the main story. If you can delete them without affecting the overall plot, then maybe you can lose them (guess who's in the middle of rewrites right now?).

Nothing in the book was very connected. I never felt that the end of the world was really going to happen, it was just an excuse for some zany background characters and for Daniel to come back to town. Cinnamon Girl was cool, but she only existed in the illustrations, nothing more. And then there were other random bits, like finding out how Alba's late father died, which seemed kind of tacked on.

I liked the characters, which counts for a lot, but the apocalypse aspect really needed to have a bigger stake in the outcome. When Jim Jones is passing out the Kool Aid, you need to have that unsettling feeling that he knows something you don't.

Sophie: I was exited when l first read the back cover because l thought Cinnaman Girl was going to come out of the drawings, so l was bummed when that never happened.

Bonus Factor: Australia

It's nice to read a book that takes place in an international setting. This is only the second book I've reviewed that takes place in Australia, and the first one that really drove that home. For instance, it took me a while to get my head around the fact that in half the world, Christmas takes place in the middle of summer. Also, Australia is one of the larger countries in the world, but with a low population. That means when someone lives outside of a big city, they can be very isolated. This is why it's such a big deal for Eden Valley to get all these tourists they're not equipped to cope with.

A nice taste of the Southern Hemisphere for American readers.

Bonus Factor: Comics

Alba is a total comic book geek, something she inherited from her late father. Each chapter of this book begins with an original Alba drawing, transforming herself and her friends into the heroes of an exciting story based on the events in her life. Comics within novels are pretty awesome, and this book does not disappoint. But like Sophie said, I would have liked more Cinnamon Girl.

Bromance Status: The Old Gang

I know you're going off to live on Sophie's bookshelf, but I'll remember those fun times we spend together...and maybe romanticize them a bit as time goes on. Stay safe.

Full Disclosure: I was sent a free copy of this book by the publisher and it was wrapped in an adorable bow...really! No money or liquor exchanged hands. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl comes out in America in April, a rerelease of an Australian edition.

 

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.