Tag Archives: Middle Grade Fiction

Book Review: What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

14 Jan

16089515What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (July 2, 2013)

368 pages

3 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: When 12-year-old River and his friends Freak and Fiona find a strange sofa outdoors near their bus stop, little do they know that their lives are about to be turned completely upside. Parallel universes, teleporting furniture, vast conspiracies, and a coal fire that never stops burning are but a few of the strange things the three friends encounter.

Review: WWFSHSW is a sweet, weird book that’s almost, but not quite, great. It reminded me of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, another middle grade fantasy with a lot of heart buried beneath its absurdity.

Like Smekday, it’s a little too strange for its own good, and I don’t see this book becoming a huge success in the manner of Percy Jackson. There was sometimes an uneasy balance between (literal) toilet humor, arch literary allusions, and the everyday struggles of the three heroes. Clark also has a strong subversive streak, and this book not-so-subtly criticizes cell phone addiction, corporate greed, GMO foods, strip mining, and  failure to question our leaders. The constantly shifting tone and clever little in-jokes made it difficult, as an adult reader, to feel fully immersed in the story.

Then again, I was an adult reading a book meant for middle schoolers.

Underneath all the imaginative world-building and weird McGuffins–a central plot point focuses on a zucchini-colored crayon–WWFSHSW is your standard adventure tale. The bones of the story are essentially the Hero’s Journey; the heroes are plunged into a strange world, meet a wise but potentially untrustworthy guide, battle monsters, journey into the dragon’s den to defeat the villain and save the world, and return home changed for the better. There’s nothing wrong with using these time-honored archetypes, but Clark might have gone a little overboard in dressing them up in silly hats. Dog hats, to be precise.

Grown-up fans of classic adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi will probably enjoy Clark’s debut novel, if only to count the number of allusions to their favorite books. Readers in the actual target demographic (grades 3-7, according to Amazon) will appreciate a book that never dumbs things down, and from which parents are, for the most part, conspicuously absent.

(Book Source: Hardcover checked out from my local public library)