Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Arch frenemies

It's not every book for teenagers that starts with an erection, but I thought Jack D. Ferraiolo takes this situation and runs with it in a pretty hilarious, totally teen-friendly way in the fun romp, Sidekicks. (In the interest of avoiding a National Book Award-type fiasco, note that the erection does not occur in either Dan Danko's nor Dan Santat's books confusingly also entitled Sidekicks.)

When mischief occurs in the Big Apple, Bright Boy is there -- in yellow spandex, red cape and a face mask. He's the sidekick of the great superhero Phantom Justice, who understands the need to appeal to the youth market. When Bright Boy isn't fighting crime, he's Scott Hutchinson, high school senior and ward of Trent Clancy, keeping a low profile at his elite Manhattan prep school.

As he's rescuing a damsel in distress from a thug who wants to drop her off the side of an 80-story high-rise, Bright Boy gets aroused. Those yellow tights leave nothing to the imagination. And with all the news cameras that diligently follow the exploits of Phantom Justice and Bright Boy, soon everybody knows what a perv he is. Sure, no one knows that the perv is Scott Hutchinson, but Scott really can't stand the stain on Bright Boy's reputation. He begs Phantom for a reboot ... a new costume ... one that recognizes that Scott is no longer the prepubescent nine-year-old Bright Boy. Phantom says he knows the market, the yellow tights stay.

On a mission against another villain, Dr. Chaotic, Bright Boy finds himself in a duel with the doctor's sidekick, Monkeywrench. In the clinch, Monkeywrench's mask falls off, to reveal Scott's classmate Allison Mendez. Scott's had a crush on Allison for some time, but she hasn't given him the time of day. After she cleverly exposes Scott, the two sidekicks first spar (verbally and physically), but then they fall hard. And when Phantom Justice and Dr. Chaotic figure out what's going on, well, the superhero world turns upside down.

Ferraiolo, who has another job as a writer for animated television, leaves nothing un-spoofed in his satire. The superheroes and the villains take the time to engage in witty repartee while fighting, the news cameras are omnipresent, the villains always intent on world domination through some doo-hickey. The fights are lovingly detailed. There's a twist that is revealed pretty early on, but the author keeps us nicely in the dark regarding motivation. The dialogue is indeed snappy and the teen romance fresh. I was a tad confused by the ending (so is Scott), but it's not really important. Ferraiolo has a knack for what teenagers will like and I think they'll like this one.

Ramón de Ocampo reads the first-person narrative. (I don't think I knew how hunky he is! Apologies for that shallowness.) I've listened to him read several times (here and here) and I've enjoyed it every time. He's great at reading teenagers, while his voice doesn't sound particularly youthful, he can deliver their speech rhythms authentically. de Ocampo brings nothing flashy to his narrations -- just solid characterizations, an appropriate feel for the book, and a pacing that reflects the mood and emotions of the plot. In Sidekicks, he reads the silliness straight, and keeps the dialogue peppy and the speakers consistent. He does a great riff on someone's (Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Christian Bale?) Batman as Phantom Justice -- clipped speech, gravelly register and take-no-prisoner's authority.

There are a few third-person sections of the novel read by Jack Garrett. He's evidently read a number of audiobooks but I've never listened to him before. He reads chapters where the book's adult characters act separately from Scott and he brings a stolidness and, yes ... slight evil to his narration. He's mostly neutral (although not the cypher that Alexander Marshall is in Life of Pi), but creates consistent characters and recognizes the humor that runs through the novel.

This is a really fun audiobook, and no one is listening to it at my library!! The book's got plenty of circulation, though. Is the cover too juvenile? Bright Boy looks younger than he is in the book to me. I think younger readers will enjoy this, but will Scott's embarrassment over his misbehaving genitalia soar right over their innocent little heads? Well, it won't be the first time ... or the last.

[The monkey wrench was photographed by Dori and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo
Narrated by Ramón de Ocampo and Jack Garrett
Recorded Books, 2011. 7:00

No comments: