Sebastian lives a life of order, math, and logic. He does precisely the right thing at the right time all the time. Until one day he has an argument with his not-so-logical cousin and finds something unexpected - a pig in a tiny hat. Sebastian's orderly life is disrupted as he's drawn into the weird and unpredictable Explorers Society. Meanwhile, a lonely girl named Evie is going out for her weekly dinner with the boring Andersons. It's the only time she gets out of the orphans home she lives in, but she's not sure it's any better. Until their boring dinner is interrupted by two terrifying men, one with half his face melted off, the other with horrible wires poking through his jaw. The next thing she knows, Evie is fleeing for her life through a secret tunnel, the Anderson's house is on fire, and her only hope is to contact the Explorers Society and find her missing grandfather, the last family she has.
Once they meet up, the two are off on a wild adventure to find the companions of Evie's grandfather and solve the mystery of his disappearance and last letter. Along the way they will get shot at, climb towers, encounter many animals with hats, and break all the rules.
The tone of this book is definitely in the flavor of Lemony Snicket. There are frequent asides from the narrator, rather rambling digressions into the meaning of words and encounters, and lots of tongue-in-cheek descriptions. There's also rather an overkill of quirkiness, from Sebastian's job of disorganizing things to long, prattling conversations with no meaning, to the adorning of small animals with hats. This is in rather odd juxtaposition to the very real danger the children face, including men with guns, and the tragic backstory of Evie's grandfather's disappearance, involving the entire destruction of an island.
Of course, both Sebastian and Evie are white, as almost all the other characters appear to be. The vocabulary is often advanced and, while Sebastian is supposed to be a genius at math and science only his photographic memory is really called upon. Evie has no especial talents, other than her desperate wish to once again have a family and a place to belong and her recklessness.
Verdict: Fans of Lemony Snicket will devour this, moan in anguish over the abrupt cliffhanger at the end, and wait desperately for another installment. However, it offers little new in the way of middle grade adventure and fantasy, neither in plot nor in characters. An additional purchase where Lemony Snicket is popular.
ISBN: 9781101940051; Published 2017 by Delacorte; Borrowed from another library in my consortium