Gravity Buster: Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius is the sequel to Frank Asch's Star Jumper, which I enjoyed and reviewed here. Each book is a project journal, with frequent small illustrations documenting young Alex's scientific progress. Alex is a genius inventor operating in stealth mode. He makes things like spaceships out of cardboard boxes and other household items. To the uninitiated, his inventions look like toys. In his journals, Alex reveals the truth.
In this installment, Alex has designed a new and improved "Star Jumper" (spaceship). He's planning to ask a girl from his class, the winner of last year's statewide Science Fair, to be his co-pilot. But first he has to design a Trustometer, to test whether or not she can be trusted to keep his secret. As in the previous book, however, Alex's progress is stymied at every turn by the interference of his younger brother Jonathan, leading to unexpected adventures.
I like the realistic nature of the sibling rivalry in this book. Jonathan is a cross between evil demon and attention-seeking sibling who worships his older brother. I also like the way that Alex doesn't seem to see how much his brother resembles him, though the reader might. (Jonathan's sabotage of Alex's reading tent is pure genius). I also love the pencil sketches, many of which are hilarious. There's one near the end titled "tap dancing sea lampreys" that really stuck with me. There's also a picture of Jonathan with fangs and horns titled "My Rotten Little Brother", and another showing specks of dust in the light of a lamp. Though detailed, the sketches look like things that an older elementary school kid could draw. I think that they'll pull young kids of a scientific bent right in to Alex's adventures.
Alex's voice is slightly annoying, but amusing, too. He's quite arrogant about his own level of genius, and scientific in his tone. Here's an example:
"Anyone else might have considered this outcome a total failure. And in a certain sense it was. But we geniuses are used to failure. As a matter of fact, we absolutely thrive on it. You got failure, bring it on! That's my philosophy. We geniuses love failure because it takes us places ordinary minds don't dare to tread." (Page 79)
And here are his thoughts on cardboard as a building material:
"How could someone build an entire spaceship in just two weeks? Well, the fact that I work mostly in cardboard certainly helps. Cardboard is the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented. Not only is cardboard light, strong and easy to work with, it's free. Cardboard is also the perfect way to disguise the greatness of one's true accomplishments." (Page 11)
Alex actually reminds me a bit of Dewey from Ellen Klage's The Green Glass Sea (which I lamentably neglected to review) in his habits, though not his personality. Both children scour garbage for useful bit like broken wires and nuts and bolts, and keep the resulting loot well-organized.
And really, either way you look at it, Alex is a genius. Either you believe that his inventions are real, in which case he's the brightest mind ever, or you have to give him props for having an inventive imagination. Even when things go wrong, they go wrong in such a way that afterward, there's no visible evidence that could be called into question (read about the Quantum Sword, for example, which is conveniently invisible to the naked eye).
Gravity Buster is not for everyone. Some of the vocabulary is fairly advanced, for an illustrated, small format book that looks like it will be easy to read. And Alex's manner may put some people off. But I think for science and invention-loving elementary school kids, especially boys, both books in the series will be a perfect fit. It's not pressing for Star Jumper and Gravity Buster to be read in order - they each have their own, standalone crises. I would try either book on a kid who mostly reads non-fiction about planes and spaceships, and isn't quite ready for full-fledged science fiction. I also think that kids who enjoy drawing, or who have a dry sense of humor, will like Alex's sketches. I know that I do.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.