Wendelin Van Draanen writes well for that difficult age: 3rd and 4th graders who have gone beyond the easy stuff, and are looking for funny, interesting stories. I like her heroes Sammy Keyes and the Shredderman. Not so much her latest: Dave Sanchez and his talking gecko, Sticky.
In Villain's Lair, the first episode in The Gecko and Sticky (the title makes sense once you finish the book), Sticky is rescued from a cat by Dave, a responsible 13-year-old. Once Sticky gets to trust Dave, he reveals his secret: He has escaped from the nefarious villain, Damien Black, who transformed Sticky into a talking gecko when he located a magical Aztec gold wristband and its accompanying ingots that -- when locked together -- give the wearer superpowers. Sticky's got the armband, and he convinces Dave to help him locate the ingots in Black's creepy house located on the edge of town. In a series of close calls (including an encounter with a hungry Komodo dragon), some snappy repartee and vocabulary lessons worthy of Lemony Snicket, Dave grabs one ingot. (I won't spoil it by saying which one.)
Dave's a good kid, and I enjoy the way he's casually Latino (just like Marcelo ... although his father as an affirmative-action candidate figures somewhat in the plot of Stork's novel). But Sticky sounds like Frito Bandito and that bugged me a lot! Adding insult to injury, there's a mariachi band comprised of three idiots. Lee-zard [lizard] ... ¡Ay caramba! ... Sí señor. Can you say ick? I don't think that narrator Marc Cashman is the voice behind that book trailer I linked to in the previous paragraph, but he sure took his cue from it.
Do kids say ick, though? Or do they find it funny? Or are the Latino kids just laughing along even though it makes them feel icky? If yes to the last question, Sticky needs to change his accent!
I also found the plotting to be just a little confusing for an audiobook: Van Draanen does a little bit of back-and-forth in the time stream, and Chapter 1 plops us feet first into the stinky, swampy cave inside the villain's lair. I'm sure I'm not the only person who went, huh? When I finished the book, I went back and listened to the beginning to get things straight in my head. When I do that, I know I'd rather be reading the book, so I can flip back at will.
On the other hand, there's a lot of excess language in this story -- the author creates her literary atmosphere by never using one adjective when she can use three -- and these probably better achieve the desired effect when read aloud.
It is a fun, wacky adventure for elementary school boys. But, I would want to be very careful into whose hands I put it.