YA Fiction: "Beetle Boy" by MG Leonard
Dr Bartholomew Cuttle is at work at the National History Museum where he is the Director of Science on an unremarkable Tuesday afternoon. He has locked himself into the Entomology Room to continue his research. But he never comes home that evening. The room was locked from the inside but completely empty. He had simply vanished from a sealed chamber.
Thirteen year old Darkus Cuttle sets out to solve the crime and to find his father.
This book is full of wonderful characters. It has flavours of Lemony Snickett, Gerald Durrell, Roald Dahl, recent films like "Paddington" as well as the classic "101 Dalmations". It is a real treat and a really well written adventure that will appeal to all readers between the ages of 8-11.
Following the disappearance of his father, crazy Prof Max, Darkus's uncle, agrees to take him in, his mother having died when Darkus was younger and there being no other family member to help out. Max lives above a health food shop in Camden but he's "not much good with guests as he never knows what to do with them." He's an extrovert and gives Darkus a hammock to sleep in as he tries to work out how to accommodate a child in his home. However, he is also full of astute insights and advice like pointing out that "grown up life can be terribly dull, full of politics and compromise." These throwaway remarks actually work as clues about Bartholomew's past and what might actually have happened to him. Max supports Darkus's plan to investigate his father's disappearance, commending him on his "grit and determination" - a phrase which is repeated frequently throughout the story.
Darkus is a sensitive and unsuspecting hero. He is lonely. He doesn't know how to talk to people about the things in his head. He has terrible nightmares and lives in a "chasm of fear". He is not a typical hero. But he makes new friends - the vivacious and lively Bertock and Virginia who ooze charisma and spirit. And most importantly, he finds Baxter the Beetle.
Baxter comes to the rescue and together Darkus as they set out to defeat the villainous Lucreita Cutter - coleopterist - collector and studier of insects. Lucretia is a highly imaginative creation. She is a mixture of Cruella DeVille and Millicent Clyde in "Paddington." Leonard's collection of villainous characters are entertaining, cartoon like in their evilness, vivid and very easy to picture. The children are equally appealing and full of vitality and life. It's an engaging and hugely enjoyable read.
The real stars of the show are the beetles. Leonard combines scientific terminology and language effortlessly in a way which is not inaccessible or off putting. There is a glossary at the end of the book but actually, the references to proper vocabulary and terms is part of the charm and appeal of the book. This will captivate any young adventurer or insect lover. It will also captivate any child with an imagination. The scenes with the beetles and the way in which they assist Darkus are very well described and form great images in the reader's mind. Leonard's choice of description and detail make this story original and fresh as well as retaining all the key elements of a classic adventure mystery book.
Although most of the book is about nature and insects, themes of friendship, family, grief, confidence and happiness are also explored with deft control and effectiveness. It is a funny book, a quirky book, ....a book that will send you out in to the garden to look at all the creatures you might uncover there. It is book full of facts and information as well as a great adventure and mystery. This book goes to show that with a bit of grit and determination, anyone can be unbeatable!
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