If you are looking for a a very earthly sci-fi, friendship, foiling-an-evil-villain-while-embracing-vegetarianism tale for a middle grade audience, then today is your lucky day! Today I have Dinosaur Boy by Corey Putmun Oakes, a fairly wacky story about championing your true self when the going gets tough. Engage eyeball thrusters! Launch review!
Sawyer is enjoying his summer holiday before entering 5th grade when he unexpectedly sprouts bony plates and a tail. Well, it isn’t entirely unexpected – Sawyer’s grandfather was part Stegosaurus and it is obvious that Sawyer has also inherited the family dinsosaur gene. As if being a fifth grader wasn’t tough enough, Sawyer now has to contend with the stares and taunts of his classmates and only has his vertically-advantaged friend Elliot, and weird new girl Sylvie, to hang out with.
When Principal Mathis instigates a tough new zero-tolerance policy on bullying in the school, Sawyer’s tormentors begin to disapper, one by one. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Sawyer, Elliot and Sylvie investigate and uncover a shocking secret that goes all the way to the top. But can the intrepid trio keep themselves out of trouble or will they too fall victim to the nefarious plot?
Read it if:
* you’ve ever been required to protect the safety of others by attaching tennis balls to any part of your anatomy
* you see nothing wrong with changing your appearance – even if it involves modifying your existing clothing to accommodate extra extremeties
* you like your middle grade fiction to contain at least one hybrid gene
Dinosaur Boy was a really strange creature in my opinion. It’s a little bit of a triumphing over the bullies tale. It’s got definite sci-fi elements. There’s a theme about being yourself running throughout. It’s got a bit of a detective vibe to it. So really, you could either take the tack that this book has got something for everyone….or say that this book didn’t really know what it was trying to be.
By the end of the tale, I was fairly convinced that the author had settled on this being a story that would (in the next book in the series, at least) stake its claim in sci-fi territory, but up until then I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.
Sawyer is a bit of an “everyman” character (despite the plates and tale) – he’s likeable, generally average, a good friend, and an authentic representation of a boy of his age trying to get along in life while everyone else seems to have it out for him. I enjoyed the contrast that was set up early on, between Sawyer’s tentative delight and curiosity at developing the family mutation, and his subsequent shame and confusion as he endures the slings and arrows of classmates that seem to have nothing better to do than pick on the kid who looks a little bit different.
The narrative comes together in the end, despite some very odd plot twists, and overall, I did enjoy the story. I would have loved to have seen more made of the whole “dinosaur-gene” and how it came to be. The author focuses on this a little at the start of the book and then it sort of falls by the wayside as the plot twists are revealed. I’m not sure that this will bother middle-grade readers particularly, but I wanted more than just a cursory explanation for why the main character needed to be part-dinosaur.
This certainly wasn’t anything spectacular from my point of view. I suspect it will make a nice addition to the “Wimpy Kid” area of the library and will garner some laughs from the target audience, but I felt that the world building was a little lacking here and as the second book seems to be taking things off-planet, I would have preferred a stronger foundation to be built on familiar terra firma first.
I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.
Until next time,