Emily Ecton's Project Jackalope is a middle grade/middle school novel about two kids (apparently ~7th grade) on the run from shadowy government agents. Jeremy's odd neighbor, Professor Twitchett, has been using him as an errand boy, and leaving him not-so-secret messages in their apartment building lobby. When Professor Twitchett disappears, leaving his latest experiment, a living, breathing Jackalope, in Jeremy's care, Jeremy turns to his annoying classmate Agatha for help. The two soon find themselves running from agents who have mysterious gadgets, like a flashlight that makes people (and animals!) vomit, and trying to protect the cute, fuzzy Jack from those who wish to use him for evil.It's an entertaining ride.
Honestly, the existence of the Jackalope (a mythical rabbit-based creature with antelope horns, an affinity for whiskey, a gift for mimicry, and a lethal temper) is less over-the-top than many other aspects of Jeremy and Agatha's adventure. Their parents have no idea what's going on, they're chased by men with guns as well as by someone in a white van, they hide out in an expensive hotel, etc. One can picture it as an over-the-top Disney movie (something that the author alludes to, in fact). There's even a playful seal who helps in an escape sequence.
I didn't care too much for Jeremy or Agatha. Jeremy, the first-person narrator, tends to over-explain things in an annoying manner. And Agatha, though smart and capable, is rather abrasive. The fast-paced plot doesn't leave a lot of time for character development in either of them. But Jack is pretty fun!
"I followed the sound of Agatha's voice to her locker, where she was in the middle of a pissing match with Carter Oliver. (Not literally.) Those two have been numbers one and two in the science fair every year since third grade. Agatha's still got a huge chip on her shoulder about last year, because she tought she was going to win big with her working model of the Titanic (complete with real iceberg, sinking, and Celine Dion soundtrack). (Chapter 4)
And here's Jeremy:
"Carter Oliver is this super-smart, super good-looking, super athletic, all-around perfect person. Everybody loves him -- teachers, kids, parents, chipmunks, you name it. If you met him, you'd think he was the best kid ever. Just being around him makes my hair get greasier, my face turn pimply, and my muscles all turn to flab instantly. Add that to the fact that I was publicly seeking out Agatha of all people, and socially, I was going to be a troll by the end of they day." (Chapter 4)
I do think that although the narrator's voice didn't quite work for me, it stands a good chance of working for 10 and 11-year-old readers, especially boys. Project Jackalope has plenty of reluctant reader appeal, with gadgets, chases, and a drunken Jackalope singing campfire songs. There's a contentious boy-girl partnership that has no romantic overtones, and a strong focus on kids acting alone, while being smarter than the adults around them. I think that Project Jackalope would make a good middle school library purchase, and will catch kids' attention.
Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleBooks)
Publication Date: March 21, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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