Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: Meddling Kids

You know a book is a good one, when you have an actively difficult time summarizing in a succinct and/or comprehensive way for Goodreads. You either want to spill all the beans, and tell everyone exactly what's got you so hyped... but you want them to discover all the glory for themselves, so you keep your spoilers on lock. 

Here's how keyed up I am about this book: I literally finished it yesterday afternoon, and, overlooking the approximate six other partial reviews I've got completed, instead furnished an entirely new blogpost, just so I can tell you about it. 

Teenage sleuths have long played a part in the American nostalgia canon: from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, to the lesser known Three Investigators, to the iconic and ever-evolving universe of the Scooby Doo Mystery Gang, these optimistic explorers and intrepid do-righters have given plenty of collective baddies reason to curse these roving bands of "meddling kids." However, suppose that maybe, one of those countless cases didn't quite end up catching the real bad guy. Perhaps, in one haunted house, something more sinister was lurking... something those teens weren't quite ready to confront. Something still following them all these years later. Something that's still waiting for them to return.

Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero, follows the story of one such gang: the Blyton Summer Detectives Club, made up of youngsters Peter, Nate, Kerri, Andy, and their lovable pup, Sean. Their last case didn't end quite right, and what they saw that fateful night is still haunting them so many years later... Andy's on the run after a jail break, Kerri's adrift and nursing a drinking problem, Nate's in an asylum, and Peter's the reason he's there (because, despite the fact that Pete's been dead for two years, he's still hanging around Nate). When the gang decides to regroup - alongside Sean's descendant, a new dog named Tim - and face their demons, both metaphorical and real, back in the town where it happened, they'll find a mystery that reaches far beyond simply a man in a mask. 

What starts as an homage to these classic youth literary figures, quickly gives way to a madcap adventure, led by a cast of leading characters that cleverly riff on familiar tropes, while still clearing space for something incredibly new and unique. It's easy to spot the doppelgangers of the Scooby Gang's founding members, but no one is an exact replica: each carries remarkable traits and quirks that not only serve to separate them from the source material, but provide a more solid and dimensional background for not only the original mystery, but the flawed adults those kids grew into after chasing one too many monsters.

Better yet, Cantero deliberately emphasizes those commonalities you do observe: bringing forth the deliberate nostalgia of his source material by regularly peppering the storyline with plenty of pop culture references, both real and almost-real. He further expands his reach by breaking through the fourth wall with cases of extreme meta, weaving the framing of the story - as if it was one of those Saturday morning or Sunday evening television shows - into the narrative itself, making it absolutely clear that anything is possible in this novel.

While this kind of deliberately evocative writing style can sometimes seem a little obtrusive - especially in the beginning, when you're not quite used to character dialogue and action randomly written in screenplay format, or the idea of characters "sweeping away the title card" throws you off - eventually it melds so well into the zaniness of the overall story that it becomes a perfect fit, yet another unique element of an out-of-this-world novel.

And let me be very clear: this book is out of this world. It's fun, plain and simple, and while there might be some who get thrown off by the unconventional writing style, or the slightly bananas plot twists throughout the book, I can't emphasize enough how great this whole boundless ride was. Never has a novel from the Horror genre made me smile this much. 

One last note: I read this book at a peak moment for my personal perusal of that particular genre, which for me, is the end of summer. If you don't get the chance to read this in the next couple of weeks, absolutely read it this Fall. I think it's a perfect choice for September or October book clubs!

Final Verdict: Anyone who likes diverse LGBT leads, SyFy Channel Original Movies, or, of course, Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred in all their iterations (but ESPECIALLY the Zombie Island kind) should absolutely give this book a read.

Which teenage detectives were your favorites when you were a kid? What Scooby Doo movie is your favorite? Let me know, in the comments below!

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