The Bloomswell Diaries, by Louis L. Buitendag (Kane Miller, 2011, middle grade, 272 pages)
Young Ben Bloomswell is used to his parents going off on business of their own; they always come back. But this time is different. This time, they've taken him from England to stay with his uncle in New York, while his sister is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, part of his parents' plan to keep them safe.
And this time, his parents might not be coming back for him. A newspaper article claims they're dead. His uncle warns him that his parents have made powerful and ruthless enemies--men who would love to have young Ben as a hostage. But his uncle proves powerless to keep him safe, and disappears under mysterious circumstances.
With evil men who's motives he doesn't understand at all pursuing him, Ben sets off on his own to try to get back to Europe--first to find his sister, and then to find his parents. But to get there, he'll have to escape from the kidnappers who have imprisoned him in an most unpleasant orphanage, become a stowaway on board a ship (carrying very unusual passengers indeed) and face an army of metal automatons....all the while not knowing who to trust, and desperately seeking the answers to his questions about his parents--what have they been doing, to acquire such fearsome enemies, and more importantly, where are they now?
The Bloomswell Diaries is a very nice take indeed on the Child Fleeing from Mysterious Bad Guys story, and I enjoyed it lots. Here's why.
1. The story moves briskly in a series of swoops from one perilous situation to the next, but not so briskly as to be dizzying, and the relatively peaceful ocean voyage in the middle provided a nice break from the swooping. I like things to be brisk, but I also don't want to be overwhelmed--I thought Buitendag's pacing was just right.
2. The writing pleased me lots (my inner editor was beautifully quiet throughout); it was neither too verbose or too terse, and there was a lightness to it that made the reading of it fun. Lots of the explaining is done with very natural sounding dialogue, and although we are privy to some of Ben's thoughts, we are not overwhelmed by the author spelling them out for us in too great detail.
3. Ben is very much an Every Boy--there's not much to his particular character that made him distinct in my mind--but his normalcy worked well here. He's anxious, uncertain, and not gifted with special gifts--smart enough, and sharp enough, to make it through, but not so much so as to be unrealistic.
My one substantial complaint concerns the metal automatons. I have nothing against them, per se, and, in general, like the added interest they can bring. But I think that they need a bit more historical depth and assorted cultural reverberations than Buitendag gives them. The book would have been essentially the same story if they had been flesh and blood...and so I was jolted from my acceptance of the story when they were on stage.
But perhaps in the sequel (surely there will be one, because although one ending is reached, there's lots more that needs to happen), the world building will become clearer and I'll enjoy the story even more!