CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 30. . . .April 14, 2017
Sebastian is walking home from school one afternoon when his friend suggests a different route. Sebastian is not one for breaking routine, but that day he follows his friend into an alley and comes across a somewhat hidden building entrance with a cryptic sign that simply says, “The Explorers Society.” He begins to wonder what the Society is and why he can’t seem to let go of it after seeing the plaque on the side of the door. The next day, after school, he tries to avoid the alley and the door altogether, but just as he is about to pass it by, a pig in a teeny hat runs out into the street, and Sebastian finds himself running to rescue the pig from an oncoming vehicle.
He soon encounters the pig’s owner, a strange man who can’t seem to walk in a straight line, and who requests that Sebastian carry the pig back to his home, which we soon realize is The Explorers Society. Sebastian is alarmed, but once he enters the Society building, his life changes drastically, and he is pulled into an alarmingly dangerous and mysterious adventure to save the life of a man he’s never met, someone whose granddaughter (Evie) is being chased by ruthless killers. Using a series of clues found in a hidden box, Sebastian and Evie do their best to uncover the secret key and save Evie’s grandfather from whatever danger he may be in.
Kress’ characters are intriguing, both primary and secondary alike, and the descriptors she uses serve to both examine their personalities and amuse the reader. Sebastian is our hero, and Evie is our heroine. Although both individuals are separated by circumstance in the early third of the novel, their storylines merge as the stakes are raised and elements of danger are revealed in the forms of the alarmingly ruthless Mr. I (a man with a hideously wired mouth) and Mr. K (who looks like half of his face has melted away). Speaking of adults, in many ways they play out like those in “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, unhelpful, bumbling around, and often missing very obvious facts and information. This is both charming and slightly cliché, depending on how one chooses to approach the fact.
Other characters, though fun and intriguing, as noted earlier, are also somewhat flat. I can only assume (or at least hope) that we see further growth as the series continues and relationships are strengthened between Sebastian, Evie, and the other adults of The Explorers Society, such as Myrtle (know as the Ice Queen to Society members), Catherine (a member of the forgotten Filipendulous Five), and Hubert (whose zig-zag walk is reminiscent of the funny walks of Monty Python fame). I realize this is quite a short and quick novel, relying mostly on its fast-paced plot, but I still believe that the characters have room for growth in future installments of the series.
The plot, itself, is compelling in terms of the ways that Kress slowly reveals bits and pieces of the central mystery, and the continuous roadblocks help Sebastian and Evie build character along the way. I found myself wondering if Mr. K and Mr. I would ever be taken down, and though I will not be providing any spoilers here, I will say that I am still wondering (wait, is that a spoiler?) Also, out of all of the settings, I really enjoyed the random assortment of rooms and passageways in The Explorers Society (reminiscent of Hogwarts), each of which has a purpose, though perhaps not immediately evident. There is a treehouse on the roof, a very long tube slide, an elevator disguised as stairs (“We showcase a series of life-sized paintings of stairs as the society. It’s called ‘Up and Down.’ Each one has a slightly different ratio of height to width meant to express the inner turmoil one feels at the foot of a staircase.”), and a room full of animals wearing teeny hats. I see a lot of potential there.
Equal parts quirky comedy, thriller (think Artemis Fowl), and absurdist mystery, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is a book that will surprise and delight young readers looking for a refreshing and exciting new addition to their reading list! A warning, though, before you get too excited to find out all of the answers, there isn’t quite an end, as this is the first in a series. As the narrator playfully quips, “Don’t you hate stories that end in cliff-hangers? They’re just so….”
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.