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Monday, June 22, 2015

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2015. $19.50 ages 9 and up

"Pixie Dust is what we use on throw up. It's pink and very absorbent. I sprinkle some on the bits of upchucked hot dog, Oopah Loopah, and Ambrosia Punch, sweep it into my pan, the deposit the now semi-solid pinkish patty through the mouth of a clown-head garbage can. A skinny, goofy-looking teenager wanders over ... "

Lane Smith makes a stellar middle school novel debut in this tale of Augie Hobble. It's a bit offbeat, to say the least, while also keeping its audience always moving forward and  cheering for Augie.

Fairy Tale Place is as zany as the story itself. Poor Augie is embarrassed by some of the attractions, feeling there is nothing attractive about them. It's his summer job; he works for his father, he is stuck with the daily grind. As well, he is trying to come to grips with attending summer school in order to bring up his Creative Arts grade, while fending off his nemesis Hogg Wills, and impressing Julilana, a girl from school who is hosting in the park as Cinderella. The bright light in his days is his best friend Britt. Together, they are trying to build a tree house which proves a tough task. They spend all of their free time together, and have a strong and loyal relationship.

It all begins as one might expect. Lane Smith does not keep it going in a straight line. As happens in the amusement park where much of his story is set, Augie's summer becomes a series of twists and turns that will surprise and shock readers. But, it will keep them reading and relishing the art of the storytelling. Just when the reader feels comfortable with the trajectory of the story, Mr. Smith throws a wrench in it. Everything goes sideways as we read about pets that go missing, a death, visions, werewolves, thievery ... the list goes on.

Augie is a character to love. He loves puns, is smart as a whip, funny, full of life and meets the overwhelming odds he faces as he navigates this harrowing with strength and humor when needed.

Like being on a roller coaster ride in an amusement park, Lane Smith manages to keep us on the edge of our seats as we head toward the fitting conclusion. The variety in the illustrations that accompany his tale is evidence of his humor and his artistic skill. He creates Polaroid-like images to detail events in Augie's life, as well as notebook pages that show Augie's lack of progress in getting his creative arts project completed. Every one of them is a joy to read, and will be much appreciated by kid readers.

From zany to disastrous, then ultimately hopeful, readers will savor this ride.

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