Fat Fox Books, RRP £6.99 Pubished August 2014. Suitable for ages 8-12
“When Soapy’s granny is shot through the roof on a turbo-charged stair lift, he knows that something is not right. Someone, or something, is playing incredible, hilarious pranks – but who? Soapy and his friend appoint themselves chief detectives to solve the mystery and discover that the culprit is a hairy, superhuman figure with a shocking secret!
I hate giving books sparkling reviews. There can’t, I tell myself, be nothing critical to say. You’ve got to be honest and balanced. And that means pointing out the bad as well as the good.
Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – a book lands on my doormat that is pretty bulletproof. Even then, I can usually find a few negative things to say. I am an eternal pessimist. Negativity comes easy to me.
Not so Prankenstein. Prankensein is Practically Perfect right up until the last chapter, in which an unsatisfying deus ex machina ending dampens what is otherwise an excellent story. The humour is delightful. The narrative is captivating. Even the boring technical bits – number and freqency of illustrtations, chapter length, language pitch – are exemplary.
The problem is, it seems, that Andy Seed knows his audience too well. He’s written a handful of homework-helpers, a trio of memoirs (based on his experiences teaching primary school) and an assortment of poetry collections and miscellanies. Prankenstein is his first novel, but you’d never know it. It’s a well crafted, funny, and escapist read which I’d like to compare to David Walliams or Dav Pikey, if only doing so wouldn’t suggest Prankentstein was much lower quality than it is. Where David Walliams churns out anything vaguely absurdist safe in the knowledge that it will sell, Seed crafts a narrative that’s both absurd and entirely logical; where Dav Pikey’s willy-bum-bogeys brand of subversion is insultingly patronising, Seed’s is well-pitched and funny. In a fast-paced narrative, Seed never drops the ball or loses our interest but keeps us engaged right up to the last page.
The story concerns the appearance of a malevolent being who is playing tricks on just about everyone ten-year-old Soapy knows. Bottoms are stuck to chairs; false teeth are replaced; cows are to be found where cows should not be and it all the evidence points to Soapy as the culprit. With the spectre of boarding school hanging over him if the practical jokes don’t stop, Soapy turns detective, and, with the help of his friends the Twince, unmasks the prankster.
All the characters are nicely realised and will be familiar to most readers, especially Soapy’s nemesis Venus, a spoiled, celebrity-obsessed prima donna who (naturally) gets her just desserts. Seeds use of voice to convey character never descends too far into caricature, but hovers around the line of ‘overdone’, spilling over only when there’s a good joke to be made.
In in 2008 the School Libraries Association noted How to Spot a Hadrosaur in a Bus Queue on their list of 100 books to get boys reading. Prankenstein deserves a place on that list too. I’ve written before about reluctant male readers, but I focussed then on the reading boys do that isn’t in the usual format; reading comics. Here is a story presented in a traditional prose narrative – it’s not a graphic novel or a comic book – that is guaranteed to have kids, even reluctant ones, turning the pages. It’s a delightful diversion, neither too simple nor too complex for reluctant or struggling readers. If it wasn’t for the ending I’d award full marks, but even still, Prankenstein deserves 9/10.