Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two New Overdue Reviews

In one book, a twelve-year-old genius is suspicious of the new kid in town. In the other, an amnesiac who can't feel pain wrestles with, first, a lion, and then his new-found fame. One is for a middle grade audience. The other is most certainly not.

So, what do these two novels have in common? I won them both on the internets.

by Barry Lyga

In late September, I won a signed copy of Archvillain on author Barry Lyga's blog by announcing I wanted the power to hurl a yak into space using only my mind. True story.

Speaking of stories...

Everyone else in town loves "Mighty" Mike, but sixth grader Kyle Camden doesn't trust him. In a twist on the old Superman origin story, Mike appears in town after a meteor shower1 and starts doing superheroey things. Kyle, with new superpowers of his own (and a pet rabbit), concocts increasingly complicated plans to unmask Mike as an alien and a fake.

Archvillain is an entertaining story on its own, but what I enjoyed most was how Lyga took various modern conventions and turned them on their head. The protagonists in most middle grade fiction start out as shy, bullied losers with no real talent, yet Kyle is the smartest and most popular kid in his school. And, though Kyle is constantly rebuffed in his efforts to convince the town the truth about Mighty Mike — after all, no one ever believes kids in kids' books — the further you read, the more you begin to realize this may not be the kind of tale where the plucky protagonist saves the day.

But then again, as the back cover states, "Sometimes it's good to be bad."


1 Which Kyle explains was neither meteors nor a shower. Discuss.

by Sean Ferrell

In late October, I won a copy of Numb from David Hebblethwaite over at Follow the Thread by being completely random.2

Numb, at its core, is about a man who is numb at his core. Not only is he immune to pain, but he's sometimes frozen in his decision-making and insensitive to how his actions might harm others. It's almost as if he's in a daze for most of the book, letting others manipulate and use him rather than finding his own way. Yet, for someone who sounds so dull, he's quite the complex character.

And he's surrounded by a cast that is equally as complex, often acting or reacting in ways that only make sense later on. I tend to prefer fiction driven by plot rather than character, but the depth Ferrell gives his characters, especially Mal (the friend), Hiko (the girlfriend), and Emilia (the lover), kept me riveted.3

By the way, there's one thing I noticed which others may have missed. On page 3, the main character explains how he first stumbled into a Texas circus, bloody and with no memory of who he is. He concludes with:
When some of the carnies came up to me, I said, "I'm numb."
This became my name.
Yet, as best I can remember, not one person in the entire novel refers to him by name. That Sean Ferrell sure is a clever one.

Numb is the story of a man searching for an identity, while also doing his best to traverse the ins and outs of friendships, relationships, and the kind of celebrity you get by driving nails through your skin.

Plus, carnies.


2 Of course, you probably thought the space yak bit that won me the other book was completely random, but this is a completely different "completely random." In this case I mean I was selected to win randomly.
3 This is a special service Ferrell offers. For $100 (plus travel costs and a signed liability waiver), he will come to your home, pump you full of painkillers, and rivet you to a copy of his book. How better to connect with the main character and his plight?


  1. These are some awesome reviews! I'll have to look for these stories once I get closer to finishing the three books I'm already reading.

  2. Yet another reminder for me to pick up this book! I feel like it's been screaming at me for weeks.

  3. Thanks, Jeffrey, you're too kind. No, I mean it. Stop being so kind.

    And Teri, I don't know which book you're referring to, but yes, it sure does like to scream. I've started wearing ear muffs around the house.