Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hazel Wetherby & the Elixir of Love (Bill Defelis)

Overall: 4.4   ҉
  • Plot: 5/5
  • Originality: 4.5/5
  • Language: 4.2/5
  • Believability: 3.8/5
Hazel Wetherby & the Elixir of Love by Bill Defelis

Thirteen-year-old Hazel has a rough life: two nerdy rocket scientists for parents, a kid brother convinced he’s an alien, and a housekeeper trained by the Spanish Inquisition. But when her parents vanish, the housekeeper turns into small bits of charcoal, and the police only shrug their shoulders, Hazel realizes she’s still got a lot to learn about rough.

As days drag by with no news, Hazel decides she’ll have to find her parents herself. And she’s determined nothing will stop her – not her complete ignorance of how to go about it, not her loony brother’s ravings about evil alien kidnappers, not even the dead guys trying to kill her.

But first she’ll have to join in a race to find something small and red and jolly. Winning that race will be her only chance to save her family. And a lot of other families as well.
Genre: Fantasy,
Science Fiction
Purchase Links:
Kindle US | UK | DE

In this wildly entertaining book, we follow a thirteen-year-old as she tries to deal with missing parents, stalkers, alien invasions, and a crush on the boy next door. (Technically, he lives across the street and one house over, but who really keeps track of these things?) A mixture of spunk, obstinacy, and a dangerously underdeveloped regard for personal safety, Hazel is every bit the believable "tween", equal parts endearing and infuriating for the adult reader, though young adolescents may see in her someone with whom they can identify.

First off, this plot was rather well thought out. Different "bad guys", "good guys", and the cars they drove were mixed in at various time points, introduced early on and then reintroduced with the gradual revelation of at least some of their motives and activities. While side stories can be distracting or unnecessary, they flesh out the story nicely here; they give the reader a better sense of individual characters' personalities and any significant circumstances. Suffice it to say that some of my suspicions proved more fruitful than others.

The story is told from the perspective of a reasonably precocious thirteen-year-old, a curious combination of slang and high school level vocabulary. Somehow, the tone of voice still sounds age-appropriate, and I had no trouble believing that Hazel really is a middle school student, albeit one with a diversified mental bank of words. On the whole, Defelis proves himself quite adept at creating characters that are at once entertaining, consistent, and easily accessible.

While middle grade fiction often requires a suspension of belief and the shutting off of adult thought patterns, I found myself skeptical more often than not about the things that Hazel was able to accomplish as a minor — renting an office space, for one, and avoiding visits from social services for another. The improbability of these and a few other things was a chunky pill to swallow, though it did eventually go down.

Hazel Wetherby & the Elixir of Love is a book that I can see "tweens" enjoying. The plot moves quickly enough to maintain interest, while the story itself is engrossing. Even this grown up stayed up well past her usual bedtime just to find out how it all ends. Suffice it to say that a sequel would be greatly appreciated.

(Review copy provided by the author)


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