When I was a kid, children’s books that had magic in them almost always seemed to end with the kids giving up the magic because they had earned their character growth and could be adults now. At the time, I thought this was bogus and lame, and it’s a good part of the reason I liked Oz and John Bellairs so very fiercely.
John Bellairs never made anybody give their magic up to hold down a day job.
I find that even as an adult, I am feeling a similar fierce loyalty to Greg van Eekhout’s middle-grade novel Kid Vs. Squid, despite the fact that the second-billed squid doesn’t make an appearance until very late in the novel, which seems to me a bit of false advertising.
On the other hand, I couldn’t pass up a title like Kid Vs. Squid either. So who am I to judge?
So young Thatcher is sent to stay with his somewhat questionable great-uncle Griswald at the beach over summer holidays. It’s a tourist town, and Griswald runs a museum of oceanic curiousities for the summer people.
But when Thatcher is left alone in the museum one day with a list of chores, curious occurences soon lead him into adventure: one of the museum displays is stolen, people involved in the theft may not be people at all, a vicious sea-witch’s curse is involved, and of course, there’s a mysterious girl...who may or may not have some connection to the lost continent of Atlantis.
Somehow, Thatcher must retrieve the stolen property, rescue the sea-witch’s victims, keep himself from being enslaved to the sea-witch, and not get into too much trouble with his great-uncle. And the thematic load is not all about how you need to settle down, either, and give up magic for more adult pursuits.
It’s hard to say too much more about the book without giving the game away, but I can tell you this about Kid Vs. Squid—it’s one of the most fun things ever, and I would have loved it to death when I was ten. It’s got mystery, adventure, derring-do, bathroom humor, smart boys, bold girls, Bond-esque bicycle chases (I detect a certain Better Off Dead influence in the jellyfish boys) and—eventually—a great big squid.
What more could you want?
Elizabeth Bear prefers octopuses. And does not engage in religious debates about the proper plural of octopuses, either.