By Paul Glennon
Ottawa author Paul Glennon takes the metafictional mode he rode to a Governor-General’s nomination with The Dodecahedron and adapts it for young readers in Bookweird. Eleven-year-old Norman Jespers-Vilnius somehow upsets the “weird” by inadvertently eating a page of a fantasy novel he is reading. This not only creates a disruption in the narrative continuum, but injects him into the actual plotline of the Undergrowth universe where normal Norman becomes Norman Strong Arm and must fight alongside sword-wielding stoats and other anthropomorphic critters against an evil empire of wolves (while still wearing his pyjamas).
In addition to all of this Normal also has to go inside his sister’s pony book, his mother’s crime thriller, and his father’s copy of The Battle of Maldon to fix further disturbances that have erupted. It’s never made clear exactly what it is going on, despite the presence of a foxy librarian who occasionally appears to help Norman out and make a pretence of explaining things, but there is plenty of action and suspense to go along with all of the create-your-own adventure (or Calvino for kids) cleverness. The writing is sophisticated and makes use of an advanced vocabulary, but the snippy family politics, Glennon’s understanding and obvious affection for the fantasy genre, and his ability to fully inhabit Norman’s adolescent mind (eating a page of text while running away from Vikings is likened to “trying to eat the world’s nastiest tasting gobstopper in less than a minute”) will resonate with the target audience. The only troubling point is the depiction of Norman’s parents. Both come across as jerks, with his father in particular being insufferable. One wonders at times why Norman is trying so hard to get back home.
Things feel a bit rushed at the end, but overall Bookweird gives fantasy fiction a fun speculative twist as well as providing a fresh look at what it means to be lost in a good book.
Review first published in Quill & Quire, October 2008.