Welcome, welcome, come in, make yourself comfortable…for today I have for you a story so strange, so mind-bendingly eerie, so unbelievably weird and bizarre that….no, wait. I don’t know if you’re up to it. Really. Maybe you should go somewhere else for your review today, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any weirdness-related heart attacks or strange-induced night terrors. Really? You think you’ll be fine? Well, if you say so. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But at least allow me to tell you about this book via my various emotional identities – the Good, the Sad and the Quirky!
Today I present to you Jake and the Giant Hand by Philippa Dowding, a book in the new series for middle-grade readers, Weird Stories Gone Wrong. We are well-disposed to Ms Dowding round the shelf because she has also written a few books featuring gargoyles. They sold quite well too, I believe. We have one sitting on the shelf waiting to be read. Soon my pretty. But I digress. In Jake and the Giant Hand, we meet Jake, an ordinary sort of boy who has gone to visit his Grandpa for the summer holidays. This is a yearly occurence for Jake and most of his prior visits have seen him spending time with neighbours Kate and Chris, riding bikes and telling ghost stories. This year, Kate tells a tall tale about a giant’s dismembered hand discovered in a farmer’s field over 100 years ago. Jake doesn’t believe the tale could be true, but he can’t deny there’s some weird stuff going on around the farm this year. Take the giant flies, for instance. Or the weird stone he discovers in a post-hole. Not to mention his Grandpa’s uncharacteristic reserve about the events in the story. Depending on what Jake finds out, this could be a summer holiday to remember!
This is the kind of book that will draw young male readers to it like flies to a particularly stinky pile of rotting compost. It is the perfect subject matter with which to tempt reluctant readers, and it dovetails nicely with an age group that is just beginning to gain some independence from parents and take on experiences laced with adventure. So I suspect this one will be a hit with middle-graders.
* The content is great – ghost stories, tall tales, the potential to uncover a particularly bizarre and freakish secret in one’s own backyard – all of this points to popularity amongst middle grade readers
* This is a relatively quick read, and it is peppered with illustrations here and there, so it’s not too off-putting for reluctant or struggling readers
*I suspect this will be a great read-aloud choice for teachers wanting to freak out kids on school camp
The only thing I didn’t really rate in the story was the abrupt manner of the reveal. There’s a lot of creepy, odd build up before Jake eventually solves the mystery, and I felt that the scene in which the the mystery is revealed didn’t quite gel with the rest of the book. There is an epilogue of sorts in which we find out what happens later, and it may just be the nature of the genre, with a slow build-up and quick surprising reveal, but I was left wanting, just a little.
* Jake has issues with Gus, his Grandpa’s stinky dog. I felt it was a bit unfair that Gus was held accountable for his stinkiness when it wasn’t really something he could control. I realise this is a small quibble, but as a self-appointed spokesthing for unsightly/malodorous creatures everywhere, one I felt should be mentioned
If you’re looking for quirky, and let’s admit it, we all are in one form or another, you will not be disappointed with this book. As a citizen of the country that brought you the hat-with-the-dangly-corks as a low-tech fly repellant, I was with Jake all the way in the creep-out stakes here.
* There is also the opportunity to discover the purpose and manner of working of an auger, for those who are unschooled in the ways of this important piece of equipment
Overall, I’d have to say this was a great, fun read and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of the series. There’s plenty of humour here, crazy, exciting mystery and just the right level of strange goings-on to provide an enjoyably creepy atmosphere without scaring the pants off anyone. A definite “read it to your middle-grader” I reckon!
Jake and the Giant Hand is due for release in September 2014.
Of course you all noticed that this title would perfectly acquit two categories of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title). There’s still plenty of time to sign up and join in the fun! Click on the image to find out more:
Until next time,
*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!*