This is a strange but ultimately interesting story.
Oliver doesn't really care about anything. He just wants to be left alone to watch tv, eat junk food, and express his hidden misery at his lonely and unhappy life in torturing insects. But all that changes when his mom gets a new job and he and his teenage sister, Rachel, are carried along on the move to a creaky old house in the middle of nowhere. Because this house is beside The Pond and The Pond is home to The Alliance. The birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and fish originally formed The Alliance for protection against the humans polluting their pond. But now they're carrying on an all-out war with any human who comes near - and there's more going on that even the alliance members don't understand.
When Oliver finds a strange gem in the attic, he's suddenly involved in the complex lives, friendships, and betrayals of the creatures who live in and around The Pond. He forms a temporary friendship with his sister, is yet again disappointed by his dad, and finally makes friends for the first time in his life. The story builds to a climactic, but ultimately uncertain ending as Oliver gets ready to return to the "real world" of school and misery, the reader wonders how much he's really been changed and whether or not he'll actually be able to finally make a friend in the human world.
There are a lot of genres fighting for a spot in this story, from a brief venture into the E. Nesbit/Edward Eager tropes of kids experimenting with magic (Oliver and Rachel's brief companionship doesn't last long and ends rather nastily) to a mixture of animal characters including the homely comfort of Robert Lawson and Thornton Burgess' little friends as well as the evil villains straight out of a Redwall saga. Despite the mixture of plots and characters and Oliver's miserable personality, the reader can't help being drawn into the fascinating and slimy world of the pond and the hopes and fears of the creatures and humans that live around it. Real life is messy - just like Pond Scum.
Verdict: A good, strong story, much deeper than it appears on a quick skim. I'm not sure about audience; I think I'd give it to middle grade readers with an interest in wildlife and possibly Warrior fans.
ISBN: 978-0786856343; Published October 2005 by Hyperion; Borrowed from the library