After reading the first two chapters, I flipped through to look at the book and was utterly disappointed in the illustrations. A book for middle-grade boys shouldn't be drawn in the childish style Steven Walker used. These pictures look like they're from a primary-grade kids' magazine, a boring one like Highlights for Children
. This kind of illustration is condescending to start with, and more so given the main characters are supposed to be in middle school. In an era where so many people talk about not enough books to engage boys, Hay's series is a fine idea. But it's like the editor wasn't even awake when selecting and assigning the project to the illustrator! I notice another reviewer agrees with me
, but more politely so.
Hay has some good writing moments here, and makes a valiant effort to keep a young person's point of view. But she lost the handle about halfway through and the whole thing turned into an after-school special. At the start of chapters 14 and 16 Hay switched to a preachy voice that wasn't half defused by the apologetic "Geez, I'm starting to sound like my dad." It was too easy to tell she was stepping in to be the narrator. I almost laughed out loud at the end when the townsfolk gathered round Dru and started clapping. Cheese. It's moments like this that remind me why I don't usually like contemporary realistic fiction--moments of contemporary, moments of realism, but tempered by some difficult moments of 'not'.
I think Hay could
pursue this series without that tv-show feel, because she knows how to write point of view and dialog, which are difficult. It always gets in the way of a story when there is a predetermined lesson as the outcome. If Barbara Hay is listening: Would you consider upcoming books in the series that will draw more on your strengths in writing, and what feels like clear background knowledge about growing up rural, and lean less on the need to teach a lesson via a story?