Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley (Dial, April 2012, middle grade)
In the town of Remarkable, where "the air was always fresh and the weather was always pleasant" (page 1), just about every resident lives up to the high-standards of remarkability. The adults are world-renowned practitioners of their various vocations, and there's even a most remarkable sea monster living in the town's remarkable lake (about which more later). The children are so extraordinary that they all go to the school for the remarkably gifted...all, that is, except for Jane Doe.
She is the only ordinary child in the whole town, and the only pupil at the public school.
But Jane's life is about to become extraordinary, when two twins with a remarkable talent for mayhem arrive in town and manage to get themselves expelled from the school for the remarkably gifted, joining Jane's class. Under the chaotic influence of the Grimlet twins, Jane's teacher casts aside the cloak of normalcy--and begins instructing her three students in the ways of piracy.
And this is not the only intrusion of piracy into Remarkable. A stranger has come to town, clearly a former pirate himself...and he is being hunted by other pirates.
Suddenly Jane finds herself at the center of events as piracy threatens the peace of Remarkable (in mildly absurd ways). But there is a bigger problem. The town's lake monster (the most remarkable one in the world, of course, though a shy and retiring creature), is threatened by the construction of a new (utterly remarkable) bell tower. And Jane's grandfather, a man even more normal than Jane (so much so that people forget he's even in the room), is the only one who knows what must be done to keep the monster safe.
It's a light and funny story. The extremes of specialness exhibited by the townsfolk, not least of whom are Jane's siblings, make for entertaining reading, as do the shenanigans of the Grimlet twins and the over-the-top piraticisms of Jane's teacher. Foley keeps a somewhat wry and humorous tone throughout--even when she's detailing the remarkable things that make her fictional town special, it's clear that she's enjoying the over-the-topness of it all, which made me enjoy it myself.
That being said, I must confess I wanted to shake sense into most of the town's inhabitants, and wish Foley had stirred them up considerably more than she did! As an adult reader, the arrogance of the people of Remarkable is more distasteful than I think it would be to a child reader. I think that the average child is, perforce, more used to not having all the knowledge and abilities of the grown-ups around them, and more used to wanting to be special--to be seen, heard, and appreciated (although goodness knows some of us (ie me) have moments (hours, days...) of wanting to be Special Snowflakes). In short, though, I think this is one with much more child appeal than appeal to grown up readers of middle grade fantasy.
However, something I did appreciate about the book is that the author stays true to her central character. Jane never does develop some miraculously special gift of her own (although she does end up happier at the end of the book). It becomes clear to the reader (although not to the majority of the remarkable characters themselves) that being extraordinarily gifted isn't enough to bring happiness, that sometimes you have to take control of your own life (and run off to sea in a piratical way, if that appeals, as two character's did with mixed results).
And in a similar vein, Jane's Grandfather, the most ordinary character of them all, proves himself a hero through a very ordinary (though slightly illegal) course of action (though his bright and sparkling townsfolk don't really realize what he's done, which is fine with him).
A good one for the child who appreciates tongue in cheek humor of a light and fun kind, especially one who has, like Jane, always wanted a dog. Or wanted to run away to sea, or sing to a lake monster....or who simply is tired of being ordinary.
Other thoughts at Mother Daughter Book Reviews, Humbleindigo, and Book Nut
And here's an interview with the author at Presenting Lenore
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher