Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Secret of Rover by Rachel Wildavsky

Katie and David think life is pretty sweet. After living in rat-infested poverty, their parents' invention has paid off and now they're living in a mansion with everything they'd ever wanted, except one a baby sibling. They're thrilled when their parents tell them they're adopting from Katkajan but they're less than thrilled when they meet the babysitter who's going to stay with them while their parents are gone. There's something...strange about her. They find out all too soon, when their parents leave and it turns out she's part of a gang of insurgents from Katkajan. Soon they find out that their parents and baby Theo have been kidnapped and their only hope is to go on the run, desperately hoping they can make it to their reclusive uncle and that he - and their parents' invention - can save the day.

This book is a weird mixture of realism, wish-fulfillment, and fantasy. The opening description of their poverty-stricken life and new wealth is just...weird. It sounds like one of those old rags to riches tales, and more especially like it was written by someone who didn't have experience of either end of the economic spectrum. It sounds more like what a kid would imagine living in extreme poverty and then extreme wealth would be like. Although I've never lived at the wealthy end of the spectrum, I've cleaned at that end (-:) and there's a distinct lack of the servants needed to run a mansion that size. The way their parents cheerfully announce that they're taking off in two days to pick up their baby daughter doesn't ring true either - international adoptions, even expedited by friends in high places, take a loooong time (not to mention all the controversies surrounding them). That part really, really bugged me. It's like the parents are looking for the perfect accessory to finish out their new life and "hey, remember when our kids said they wanted another sibling? Let's get them a baby for their birthday!" And, of course, there's the stereotypical foreign terrorists.

Once Katie and David go on the run, the story abruptly switches to realism. I didn't like this part the best - it wasn't exactly fun reading - but it certainly felt the most realistic. They argue, make stupid mistakes, get sick and tired, and have to pee in a truck and then sit in there for hours (stowing away is not a clean business). When they finally reach their uncle, the story flips back to a rapid series of coincidences, resulting in a happy ending for all.

Verdict: The two extremes, between the realism of the kids' flight and the fairy tale beginning and ending, made this a really schizophrenic read and not one that I'd recommend. The number of adventure/conspiracy stories out there is legion and this isn't good enough to rise above the crowd.

ISBN: 9780810997103; Published 2011 by Amulet/Abrams; ARC provided at ALA (yes, several years ago. I'm working through my backlist)

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