Beetle Boy, by M.G. Leonard

I don't mind beetles, and in small numbers (say, one at a time, and not eating my plants) I'm perfectly capable of finding them fascinating.   And this is good, because Beetle Boy, by M.G. Leonard (Chicken House, Feb. 2016), asks its readers to be capable of finding beetles appealing (although in larger numbers than I prefer).  Happily the main beetle protagonist, helpfully  named Baxter (a name I find friendly) is in fact appealing.  Baxter is adopted by a boy named Darkus whose life has fallen apart. His father has disappeared from a locked room full of natural historic collections of beetles, and the police are refusing to believe he didn't just walk off on his own accord.  Darkus' mother having died earlier, Darkus goes to live with his uncle Mark (who is a fine uncle, but with a small cluttered flat), who believes along with Darkus that this is a kidnapping.

And then Darkus rescues Baxter from sidewalk dangers, and realizes that Baxter is no ordinary beetle, but one capable of communicating and comprehending human speech.  In the rotting old house next door, where two almost farcical brothers argue over the almost farcical squalor, Darkus and two human friends of geeky quirkiness discover a whole colony of similarly gifted insects...(by the end, the two friends have gotten beetle buddies of their own, kind of like insect familiars).

It rurns out that the kidnapping of Darkus' dad, and the existence of the gifted insects, in danger of extermination via pesticide, or worse (there is a villain--a sort of Cruella de Ville of insect-directed malevolence)  are two pieces of the same story--a story of genetic manipulation and greed.

It's definitely more than just a mystery, because as well as preternaturally gifted beetles, there is a really disgusting bit of genetic manipulation that involves a person having acquired some insect physiology.  Icky!!!!!  But kids who enjoy mysteries might well appreciate that aspect of Beetle Boy.  Those who like "lonely kid making animal friend" stories, and those who like natural science (there's quite a bit of beetle info. woven into the story) will also like it (as long as they don't mind natural science become un-natural).  

I myself liked it fine, and read it with interest and enjoyment, although I really find people with insect legs unappealing and feel that I do not need such images in my head.   Though there were some parts of the book in which there were lots and lots and lots of beetles, including maggots, I wasn't that bothered because they were mostly busy moving their insect home of old mugs and jars etc. to a safe location (which is the sort of domestic story I like) and not just writhing insectly around in squirmy ways.

The immediate issues are satisfactorily resolved, and more of the story is coming down the pipeline--I think my fondness for the kids and their fire-lizards insect companions will be enough to make me want to read more, though I really don't want to be exposed to much more insect-human hybridity (I really hate that that bit from Nightmare on Elmstreet III is burned into my retinas).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

Three for three this week for agreement between me and Kirkus, who said of Beetle Boy--"Overall, a charming and (at times) affecting romp through beetle land. (entomology dictionary)" 

1 comment:

  1. Books with insects do very poorly in my library, so I'll pass. Do you think there really are British boys named Darkus? Shows up in Knightley and Son, too. Don't see it going over well in the US.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles