GOBLINS! An UnderEarth Adventure by Royce Buckingham
There's going to end up being a bit of a rant in this review, so I want to preface it by saying: I enjoy Buckingham's writing very much. I loved DEMONKEEPER, his first book, and sold a lot of it when I was a bookseller. I was very much looking forward to reading GOBLINS! and did ultimately enjoy it, but I have a major problem with it that I'm going to have to rant about in a minute. But first, here's the plot.
Sam lives waaaaaay up north in Washington State, right near the Canadian border. There is absolutely nothing to do in his tiny town, so at 12, he's already becoming something of a juvenile delinquent. Right now he's sitting in the local jail because he couldn't resist swiping some fireworks out of a truck parked at the Stop-n-Sip, and of course, Officer Myrmidon - the town's only policeman - caught him immediately.
On the way to the police station, Myrmidon had pulled over a Camaro that ended up being driven by his son PJ, on his way up from California for a visit. And then he'd gotten a call that some cavers were missing, so he'd taken off to help and left PJ and Sam alone.
Big mistake, of course.
The police motion-detector that's set up at the US-Canadian border goes off, and PJ decides that he and Sam should go and check it out - in his dad's police cruiser. On the way they run over what they initially think is a person, until they get it into the back of the cruiser:
Thick, black fur covered its entire body--it was not wearing a fur coat. Its hands were leathery, like those of a gorilla, and its fingers were tipped with long, yellow claws. It pushed its face up against the glass and stared back at Sam and PJ with huge yellow eyes. Two long tusks jutted up from its lower jaw. It was definitely not human.
Soon they meet two mysterious people and learn that the creature comes from a land beneath the Earth. After the creature is dispatched with and the people return to whence they came, PJ realizes Sam is gone. He quickly figures out that Sam followed the UnderEarth people, finds the entrance that goes underground, and reluctantly enters it himself. Soon both boys are caught up in a war between the UnderEarth humans and the Goblins who desperately want to take over everything that the humans control and possess all their power. Unfortunately PJ and Sam, each in his own way, makes everything UnderEarth a lot worse - but maybe, in the end, they'll help make it a lot better.
There's a lot of humor in this book and PJ and Sam are both likable characters. A lot of the Goblin stuff is hilarious. The plot moves quickly and the end, while drawing to a satisfying conclusion, clearly paves the path for a sequel. I think this could be a pretty successful middle-grade series.
Here's my problem, and the rant.
This book is listed as being for ages 8-12. So why, then, does PJ say things like No friggin' way, backwards-ass, my friggin' gravestone and I don't mean to bitch? Does a third-grader really need to read that? Or a fourth-grader? The language adds absolutely nothing to the story. Nothing. Yeah, PJ is 17. But this isn't a YA novel. And it's not a novel with a character who needs these words to show readers who he is. The book isn't full of this language - the phrases cited above are it. So why bother? If I were handselling this book to an elementary school librarian, I would have to tell her about the language and you know what? She wouldn't buy it.
I am finding this over and over and over - stuff just shoved into a book that doesn't need to be there - that does absolutely nothing to advance the story or define the characters - that should have been removed during the editing process. I'm thinking of YA novels that'll be squeaky clean until 3/4 of the way through when suddenly everyone gets drunk for no reason. I'm thinking of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, which is getting tons of Newbery buzz and which is one of the most age-inappropriate (for how it is leveled and covered) books I have ever read. (That, incidentally, will be an entire post, but I read the galley awhile ago and need to get a copy so I can quote specifics.)
In my perfect world, Buckingham's editors would remove those four words before printing the book in paperback and make sure that the sequels don't contain anything like them. The humor in Goblins! counteracts the scary parts quite nicely, and it would make a good read-aloud. It's a book I would have been happy to have in the shop where I worked, because you always need books for boys that have freaky creatures in them.
But the whole reading experience was marred for me by those age-inappropriate words - they jarred me right out of the story. I really, really wish they weren't there.