Monday, January 13, 2014

MG Book Review: Stryker, by M.M. Wheezee

General Information
Publisher: self-published
Year of publication: 2013
# of chapters: 50
# of pages: e-book
Genre: adventure

Plot summary (from website):
Twelve-year-old Harold Stryker lives all alone, in secret, in his house outside Los Angeles.

He avoids, as best as he can, other kids—and certainly grown-ups.

He keeps only his huge, gassy dog and his collection of power tools for company.

But he's okay with all that. Until the big night of the little earthquake. And his plunge into a dangerous forgotten tunnel beneath his dining room floor. And his encounter with the sweet, terrifying girl baseball star named Tien Tang and the compulsive, camo-suited, overweight force of nature known officially as Bella but universally as Blunt. They push and pull him through an underground adventure with a bullying science teacher, a tasteless chef, a greedy criminal, hairy tarantulas (live), sabertooth cats (long dead), a sweet guy who only looks bad, an aunt who's not related to her nephew, smelly mushrooms, old trolley cars, new subways, and a baker's dozen of illegal Asian immigrants who need to be rescued from a life of slavery in a California ghost town.

Harold Stryker is okay with all that too. But those two girls are now his friends. And that has him shaking.

Positive Points
I'm very divided about this book. But let's start with the positive.

I really love the theme, four kids discovering the same underground tunnel in different ways and becoming friends in the process. I'm a big fan of stories about unlikely friendships. This is one of them. Stryker, a shy (especially with girls) lonely boy, meets a Chinese girl in a tunnel he just discovered, and together they get rescued by a very blunt girl who happens to be at the right place at the right time. And they all help rescue a Thai slave. Can't get more diverse than that!

The tunnel is intriguing, and I couldn't help wondering what would happen each time they explored new sections of it. At first, I thought the earthquake had caused Stryker to find a gateway to another world, but he actually fell through a hole and found a real tunnel under his house. Hey, it could happen!

The novel's beginning is fascinating. It starts with Stryker, twelve years old, paying his bills and taking care of his house. It made me wonder who he was and why he was living alone doing stuff adults normally do. Then we get snippets of the three girls' lives, each finding the tunnel in a different way. I loved it. I wondered how their paths would cross, and it kept me reading.

The book addresses a very serious issue: slavery. It's something we don't normally think about, living in America in the twenty-first century, but it's a real issue. I trust that the writers did their research, because it felt "real." It made me want to learn more about this issue. It's a serious problem, but the authors did a good job keeping it light for younger readers. No gruesome or disturbing details, just enough facts to show what it might be like to be a young slave working underground.

Negative Points
Okay, now for the things that bothered me, and there are a few.

This book seems to be written for young readers (who would probably laugh out loud at all the fart humor), but at the same time I found quite a few words that are normally not used in a MG novel, such as swear words (God, Jesus, hell, crap, damn, Christ, Chrissakes) and insults (moron, stupid, and some others). Although there is no hard rule against it, teachers and parents may hesitate to recommend this book to kids. I know as a mom, it bothered me. It would probably be okay for a YA novel, but the characters are twelve, so it's definitely MG. Let's keep MG clean! Who's with me?

I found several writing style issues: overuse of italic for emphasis, POV shifts, and sentence structures using a comma instead of and, as in "He got off the bike, bounced the ball nervously." It distracted me from the story. I can overlook a few issues, especially for self-published books, but when half of the dialogue lines have at least one word in italic, I find it quite irritating. A little revision would make the writing stronger and more enjoyable to read. Oh, one more thing about style. I thought it was interesting that one of the girls often ended her sentences with a question mark intonation. It was well done and gave her a unique voice. But then I realized that most characters talked that way! Even one of the adults. It could have been a very positive point, but it was overdone. They all had a similar voice instead of just one of the girls having her unique way of talking. Oh well. There were other minor issues, but those were the main ones.

Regarding the plot, three things bothered me. The kids argued and insulted each other way too often. I know they are kids, and from different backgrounds, but it was a little too much for my taste. A few seemingly unrelated side stories made me want to put the book aside and read something else instead. I was eager for them to explore the tunnel, and they just decided to go mountain climbing instead, or talk about the Ice Age. It didn't make sense to me. And the fart humor. A little too much of it. But that's just me. Maybe twelve-year-old kids would love it.

What makes this book unique
It's not every day we get a chance to explore underground tunnels and rescue slave girls! These two things combined make this book stand out from the crowd.

Overall Impression
This could have been such an excellent read! It has so much potential, but unfortunately many issues as well. The plot is amazing, the characters are well developed, and I loved the beginning. A little revision would make this book shine.

My Rating:

Thinking of purchasing this book? I'll make it easy for you:


Greg Pattridge said...

Sounds like a run through with a great editor would make this book shine. Publishers notice the same points you so expertly brought forth. Thanks for your review.

Emailman said...

I love your reviews, Annie :) So honest and unbiased. I have to agree as a fellow MG author that MG should be kept clean. Call me old fashioned, I've been called worse lol

You make this book sound an interesting read despite everything.

DMS said...

I really appreciated your review! I hadn't heard of this book before, but I am intrigued by the tunnel. It was great to hear the things you liked and didn't like. Thanks for sharing. :)

Unknown said...

Congrats on your new blog! Great review as always, Annie. You so such a fair job with the pros and cons. And yes, I think MG should be clean, too.

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