I've seen this book several times at the library and almost taken it out, but then put it back because I thought it might be dumb. Then I noticed that one of its sequels was a Kirkus pick for 2014, and I thought maybe I should give the series a try. Well, Whales on Stilts is definitely as silly as it sounds, but it's also smart and funny and, in the end, quite heartfelt.
Anderson obviously has a lot of affection for the type of dime-store serial adventure story he spoofs in M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales. Absurdly ridiculous plots, unbelievably competent heroes/heroines, bombastic villains with their evil lairs and plans for taking over the world. (Sounds a lot like James Bond, actually!) Anderson stretches all the incredulity way past its breaking point (I mean, whales on stilts?) and plays it all with a perfectly straight face.
Contender for best opening line ever (and then the second line just tops it off):
On Career Day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.
Up until then life hadn't been very interesting for Lily.Lily makes this book for me. "Most people didn't know that Lily herself was interesting." She has two very interesting friends, Katie Mulligan, real-life star of the Horror Hollow books, and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, but it's Lily who's the heroine of this tale. Quiet, observant Lily is the one who notices there's something fishy about her dad's boss, with his blue, rubbery hands and the bag over his head. And after all of Jasper's inventions and Katie's helpful ideas, it's Lily who figures out how to stop his evil plan for world domination.
I love the completely oblivious adults. There's some satire of corporate culture with Lily's dad and his co-worker Ray, so caught up in minutiae that they miss the blatantly obvious:
"We're a little bit behind schedule. But you know, sometimes it almost makes me curious—why all of the giant, destructive lasers? And why all of the maps of North America?"
"Yeah. Sure. I guess. Oh, Ray, have you seen the memo about the meeting with Paul?"(Reminds me of the sitcom Better off Ted. Used to be on Netflix. Really weird humour, very pointed satire.)
I was impressed at Anderson's deft handling of tone. Yes, a lot of the humour is over-the-top, but there are subtler layers, and when it comes to Lily's character the writing can be downright lyrical. And don't skip the footnotes or the "Guide to Reading and Thinking" at the end; they're delightful.
I'll be returning to the library to pick up The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, book 2 in the series that will become Pals in Peril!
Salty, buttery popcorn, you can never get enough of it.
It's been a while since I've contributed to Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, but every Monday there are always a gang of folks with great recommendations on Shannon Messenger's blog.