Whales on Stilts!


Whales on Stilts! by M. T. Anderson. Read by Marc Cashman. (Listening Library).

Our Memorial Day Weekend blogstravaganza continues with the fourth (and probably final) installment of a series of reviews of audiobooks for children and teens that I’ve listened to recently.

Can three twelve-year-olds save the world from a sinister rampage by stilt-walking, red-eyed, laser-wielding whales? Can perfectly ordinary Lily prove she’s just as smart and just as exciting as her friends who invent amazing gadgets and fight werewolves? Can M. T. Anderson, the author of Feed, deliver a hilarious parody of the juvenile adventure novel, taking swipes at the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and Goosebumps in the process? Tune in to Whales on Stilts! and find out. You’ll hear Katie say . . .

It all begins in the quiet little town of Pelt, where, “you could get arrested for going five miles over the speed limit. It was that kind of town.” Twelve-year-old Lily Gefelty is quiet and observant–so observant in fact that she sees things others miss. For instance, she’s the only one who thinks it odd that Larry, her Dad’s boss, wears a bag over his head, has rubbery blue skin, periodically douses himself in brine, and gloats openly about taking over the world. When Lily brings up this last particularly troublesome point to her Dad, he reassures her. “People use irony all the time,” he says. “They don’t always mean what they say.”

Lily isn’t entirely sure this is just an instance of adult wordplay, so she turns to her two best friends for help. The relentlessly perky Katie Mulligan lives in nearby Horror Hollow and, appropriately enough, finds herself constantly battling vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like. She’s the star of her own “Horror Hollow” series of juvenile novels, and any time she has a brush with some creature of the night, ghostwriters (no pun intended) show up immediately, hoping to get details and fodder for the next adventure.

Lily’s other true blue pal is “Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut,” who delivers dialogue and invents gadgets that seem to come from another century (“Dash it all, chums, this sounds a mighty pickle!”) His “secret” attachment to a photocopier involves steam pipes, a mule, and a wax cylinder that weighs “only” 200 pounds. His other technological achievements include a flying restaurant where the robot waiters wear bow ties and a rocket car with a top speed of 35 mph. Jasper is also the spokesboy for Gargletine Brand Breakfast Drink, which tastes wretched to everyone but Jasper, so sales of Gargletine and of Jasper’s own series of adventure novels have fallen on hard times. Nevertheless, the two famous young people agree to help their less flamboyant friend.

Lily’s suspicions about Larry soon prove correct. He’s a whale-human hybrid (“His mother was a whale, and his father, a very lonely sailor”), who’s planning to unleash an army of supercharged cetaceans on an unsuspecting world, beginning with the nearby town of Decentville, where Lily’s grandmother lives. When Katie and Jasper’s plans to foil the felonious fishes fail, Lily, inspired by that same grandmother, comes up with her own plan to whip the warlike whales.

(By the way, I know full well that whales aren’t fish, but the string of alliterations was just too good to pass up). The whole book is written like that, with over-the-top jokes, one-liners, puns, knowing asides to the reader, and even a spoof of those sanctimonious, unremittingly earnest reader’s guides one finds especially in paperback editions today. This one was written by the hopelessly lovelorn and neurotic “Dr. Anne Mowbray-Dixon-Clark.” A reader on Amazon.com compared this book to the rapid-fire absurdist satire of Douglas Adams. I’d add a pinch of Monty Python, a dash of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and a smidgen of Roald Dahl. If parents and kids are looking for a fast and funny way to spend about three hours, they should try this book. After all–who wants to argue with a whale on stilts?

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