If Charles Dickens were writing today I can imagine him writing something very much like Alistair Grim’s Odditorium.
Gregory Funaro has written a children’s book that evokes shades of some of the more youth-centered Dickens books such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, or Little Dorrit. We start with a boy named Grubb, an orphan who is left on the doorsteps of Mr. and Mrs. Smears. When Mrs. Smears passes away, Mr. Smears puts Grubb to work as a chimney sweep, where insults and cruelty are his daily regimen. One day, while cleaning a room, he stows away in a large trunk and finds himself in a strange and marvelous place…a museum almost…the Odditorium, a magical, phantasmagorical place curated by Alistair Grim.
Grim collects Odditoria, such as a talking pocket watch and a broom that sweeps by itself. Grim grudgingly agrees to let Grubb stay (essentially ‘collecting’ Grubb as well) and Grubb comes to learn much about the Odditorium. Most importantly he learns that Grim is in a battle with evil forces, specifically the Black Fairy and Prince Nightshade, who want the secrets to Grim’s magical powers (a glowing blue flame). Grubb will have to fight those evil forces in order to protect Grim and the Odditorium.
The characters and the Odditorium are so much fun that it’s sure to capture the interest of readers of all ages. The introduction of the characters and the set-up of Odditorium are delightful and full of wonder. Even the evil characters turn out to be a lot of fun. The story, as it gets to the climactic battle, gets a little bogged down and the humor feels more than a little forced. I know that this is a book geared toward the middle school readers and the humor is going to be targeted toward them, but sometimes I felt that this went just a little too far — having the evil prince bend over and wag his butt during a major battle didn’t seem in league with other portions of the story and the battle lost much if it’s energy and power because of this. Of course, that could be what Funaro and publisher Disney were going for in order to create something that wasn’t too heavy.
The book is also illustrated with beautiful drawings that perfectly fit the style of the book. The artwork is not credited, but it definitely enhances this story.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy, middle school fiction, or those looking for a replacement for the Harry Potter books on their shelves.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Alistair Grim’s Odditorium
author: Gregory Funaro
series: Odditorium #1
hardcover, 432 pages