A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

One of the things that kept me busy last week was reading and writing up a list of nine April releases for the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, which is now up...and so reading and reviewing here suffered.  It was a nice lot of books, but there was one in particular that I wanted to talk about more than space and crisp professionalism (?) allowed.  So here's my longer and more relaxed take on:

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

Topsea is indeed a friendly town, and the ocean is indeed almost always nearby...sometimes its far far out to sea, and sometimes its right inside the houses, depending on the very idiosyncratic tides.  Davy's mom has moved the two of them there, to give them a fresh start after his dad's death, and Davy knows she's counting on him to be happy there.  So he does his absolute best to fit in.

Except that Topsea is a place where everything is deeply peculiar.  The seaweed slithers around actively, the pier has no end in sight, there's a troll (?) under the bridge and possibly a monster in the arcade, seagulls deliver the mail and strange and sinister cats haunt the beach.  In Topsea, every kid knows not to make eye contact with a rubber duck that still has its eyes. The  kids themselves are, to varying degrees, odd in their own ways. 

And so Davy's faced with a conundrum- how can you fit into a new normal when there is no normal to fit into?  But Davy is just about the gamest kid I've ever read about.  For instance, when he finds out his locker is deep, deep down at the bottom of an extraordinarily deep swimming pool, he is dismayed, but dives in regardless, and makes the best of things when he can't reach it.  Fortunately, the other kids, though unusual and with a much different sense of what is ordinary, are friendly and welcoming.

And gradually, as Davy gets used to his new (ab)normal, he finds that Topsea is indeed becoming home.

A large part of the book is told from Davy's perspective, but it's broken up with bits from the school newspaper, bits from the point of view of other kids, the school cafeteria menu, and bits of information signage, so that the reader can see the oddness directly without having to rely on Davy to filter it.  This works very well, not slowing the story down at all but making everything seem more real.

Basically, this is Welcome to Nightvale for middle school readers, without being quite as scary.  Not even the creepy Ice-cream man has caused lasting harm to anyone.   I have a low tolerance for whacky whimsy (the Wayside school sort of thing leaves me cold), but I enjoyed this one lots and lots...and am not sure exactly why that is.  Possibly because it is more perverse than whimsical, and isn't trying at all to be cute? Possibly because the kids, though eccentric, are not exaggerated for laughs? Possibly because I have a soft spot for sinister yellow ducks? But in any event, I found it charming and memorable and Davy's a darling.

Although it's middle grade (9-12 year olds), I think it's an especially good one for upper elementary school kids (8-9 year olds which a tolerance for the odd should enjoy it very much).


  1. I heard an interview with Kit Fox a couple of weeks ago, and have been dying to read this book ever since! So glad you enjoyed it; I have to request it now. If you're a Night Vale fan, Oddity by Sarah Cannon is another middle grade read that you'll like.

  2. Oddity was lots of fun, Rosemary! Thanks for this review, Charlotte - I'm putting a hold on it especially for my daughter, who has been eating up Tuesdays at the Castle and Upside Down Magic on audio of late.


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