CM . . .
. Volume xxi Number 25 . . . . March 6, 2015
Darren Dirkowitz is an 11-year old boy with a secret identity – Dirk Daring, world class spy. Among his many top secret missions, destroying his number one enemy and stepbrother (Code name: Waldo) is at the top of his list. Unfortunately, Waldo has gotten a hold of his spy journal that contains “for Dirk Daring’s-eyes-only” information. In order to get it back, Dirk must do Waldo’s bidding, even if it means using his spy abilities for evil. With the help of his best friend, Travis, he sets to work. Through his many stakeouts and missions, he comes to find that maybe he was wrong about Waldo….and maybe he was wrong about Travis too.
This novel was well-written and displayed well-rounded humour; however, the main issue I found was the discrepancy in the way the characters spoke. Described as being 11-years-old and in the fifth grade, the jokes and references made by Darren and his classmates gave me pause. I felt as though these characters would be much more believable had they been 13 or 14 and in high school. Some of the references made were on a more mature content level, including the acronym “B.S.” while other references made, such as “crocodile tears” didn’t seem like something an 11-year-old would be familiar with. Altogether, I found it very distracting and was continuously pulled out of the story in order to flip back to the beginning of the book to double check that I hadn’t misread their grade and ages. While the publisher recommends the age range for this novel as 8 – 11 years old, I worry that children younger than 11 would find some of the text confusing. This wouldn’t necessarily ruin the overall experience as the action and descriptive quality of the text would be easily understood, but consistently stopping to check out references may not add to the enjoyment of reading. For this reason I would recommend the novel to ages 11 - 14.
On a positive note, Darren’s dramatic and hyperbolic imagination stayed true to what one would expect from an undercover secret agent, and the novel’s representation of log books, coded messages and mission notes made the reading process much more enjoyable.
One of the overarching themes in this novel is bullying and the toll it takes on not only an individual, but on relationships too. In the beginning, we see Waldo picking on Darren, but, as the plot moves forward, Darren soon finds that bullying can come from those you’d least expect it from, even your best friend. Travis becomes an unexpected enemy for a portion of the story, and, while this does add intrigue to the plot line, it came seemingly out of nowhere and changed the course of the story entirely. In terms of the plot line in general, it seemed very slow paced up until the sudden twist with Travis. After this moment, the book rushes to finish, ending abruptly – although managing to tie all loose ends.
When the climax of the novel is reached, it’s Darren against the school, and this was extremely relatable. Most children have had their own version of being humiliated in front of an audience and know what it’s like to be picked on or teased for their interests and past times. Out of the novel’s entire 195 pages, I thought this moment was the only one that I felt really connected to throughout the course of the story. If Becker was trying to make a point about the toll bullying can have on kids, then she succeeded in that moment.
Overall, I would recommend this book but with reservations. While the dialogue never contained anything extremely offensive or graphic, I found myself puzzling over a lot of what the characters said. This, along with the disjointed plot line, made for a moderately enjoyable reading experience. I do wish to grant the story merit in its representation of theme as I think it touches on something very important in our society today.
Recommended with Reservations.
Lacey Hall is the assistant to the Dean of Arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a recent Bachelor of Arts graduate from The University of the Fraser Valley.
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