So today it is time for my infamous practice of posting the first few paragraphs of a novel and picking them apart. We’ll get that over with first. Here is the opening of Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow:
It was the last day of school and I was running for my life. My friends and I had just pulled one of the best pranks ever. It’s not like we were trying to get in trouble, it’s just that we were determined to get even with the school bully before summer break. After all, Cranton had gone out of his way more than once to make my life miserable this year so it wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve it. Besides, the last day of school was the perfect time for payback.
Stretch and I had planned out the whole thing weeks in advance. We called it Project:Fireball, and elaborate scheme that required hijacking a bag of brownies from my sister’s bake sale and modifying them with a bottle of Stu’s Unreasonably Wicked Hot Sauce. All we needed was a decoy. Kitty Swanson, the most popular girl in the whole school, had been Cranton’s crush for the entire year and was the perfect candidate. The objective was simple enough: inject the brownies with hot sauce and leave them in a bag on Cranton’s “reserved” cafeteria table, along with a note from Kitty in the girliest handwriting we could manage.
Stretch and I watched with anticipation, recording every moment of our latest attempt to humiliate Cranton on my video camera. If everything went as planned we would be posting the footage on our Web site for the whole world to see. It would be the thirteenth and final installment of our online video series. Our subscriber list had grown considerably over the school year as we devised and recorded some of the greatest pranks ever achieved by a student at Destiny Hills High School.
Thinking back over the whole novel, I’m not sure this lead-up directly feeds into the main plot. It does show that the narrator, Hunter, is a prankster with a history of being the underdog and trying to get even. Does this pull you in?
The first few pages really felt like a knock-off of The Never Ending Story with a couple of major plot points in common: getting trapped in a dumpster or garbage bin in an effort to escape the bullies, and finding themselves in a magical bookstore with a magical book.
I’m really happy to announce that the book, while obviously allegorical (and therefore a little predictable, but maybe not to tweens!), struck off into more original territory after that. One of my favorite bits involved the fantasy mounts of Solandria (giant iguanas, pg 255-6):
“Man, I’m going to regret this,” I said, closing my eyes and cracking the reins. The creature lurched up the tree with a jerk, and before you could say, “What am I getting myself into?” it scampered up and came to a sudden stop. My head was aching, and when at last I opened my eyes, I discovered why. I was hanging precariously upside down on the underside of a tree limb–the very same limb that Hope was currently occupying above me, or was that below me? How is this even possible, I wondered, looking down, which was up, at the Ugua’s grasp on the branch. It reminded me of the little gecko I’d found climbing the walls and the ceilings of my grandparents’ condo in Hawaii three years ago. I never did figure out what kept the gecko up there.
I looked up, which was down, at Stretch, who was still uncommitted, staring up in disbelief.
“Come on, Stretch,” I called down. “It’s not as bad as it looks.” Who was I kidding? I was terrified.
All in all? I think this novel by The Miller Brothers will be a great read for its target audience, kids age 9-12 or thereabouts. The second installment in the series will soon be available.