Sunday, April 3, 2016

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman
by Adrienne Kress
Recommended Ages: 10+

Alex Morningstar is a ten-and-a-half-year-old girl who, this book's vaguely Lemony Snicketish narrator tells us, is often mistaken for a boy because of her decided character, her pudding-bowl haircut, and her tendency to go trousered, when she doesn't have to wear her skirted school uniform. She lives in a small town overshadowed by the mansion of a great philanthropist who made his fortune as a pirate, and who left half of his treasure buried somewhere it has never been found. Now a museum, the mansion is curated by a bunch of scary biddies called the Daughters of the Founding Fathers Preservation Society. It is while searching for the Infamous Wigpowder's lost treasure map that Alex gets nabbed by the Daughters, and while they are holding her hostage and inflicting awful punishments for daring to cross the velvet rope, actual living pirates knock over the doorknob shop where she lives, killing the uncle who is her only living family, and kidnapping her sixth-grade teacher Mr. Underwood, who is the next thing to being her family, and who is also the rightful heir to the Wigpowder fortune.

Well, that was a mouthful. After that, all there is to say is that Alex goes on an adventure involving a train whose passengers disappear one by one, a movie monster who only wants to be taken seriously as an actor, a talking fridge that is the most sensible denizen of a bizarre hotel, a harbor city named after a Roman general who slipped on a banana peel, a conjurer with a weakness for the drink, and a crew of naval heroes willing to risk virtually certain doom to track down the dread pirate Steele, the pirate ship Ironic Gentleman, and its crew of physically and mentally twisted villains. Along the way, Alex learns by chilling experience that, heigh ho, a pirate's life is not for her. She finds herself facing the point of a murderous pirate's sword before we learn what will become of her, and Mr. Underwood, and the Wigpowder treasure.

This is a very enjoyable novel, full of hearty laughs, quirky characters, and goofy narrator's digressions. It has a good deal of violence, some hideously bad adult behavior, and some gruesome touches as well. It's definitely a thriller, with more than a touch of magic - such as a cat who shows every sign of human-like intelligence up to, but not quite including, speech. It has the kid appeal of a cast of adults who are no match for the brilliance of a sixth-grade girl - though Alex is no ordinary sixth-grader. My biggest laugh came from an early scene where the police put her in an interrogation room with the two-way mirror turned the wrong way. But the book is full of dialogue, action, and even scenic descriptions whose rich absurdity brought cleansing, liberating laughs from deep in my belly. This book made my weekend.

Adrienne Kress is a Canadian actress and author whose titles include the children's adventure Timothy and the Dragon's Gate, the girl-power steampunk novel The Friday Society, the angelic abduction/teen romance thriller Outcast, and a spinoff of the Looking Glass Wars trilogy co-written with the series' creator, Frank Beddor. As for this book, there was a rumor about 10 years ago that it was going to be made into a movie, but as far as I am aware, no such film ever materialized. It might happen, though!

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