Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: In Search of Goliathus Hercules

In Search of Goliathus Hercules
By Jennifer Angus
Published 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company

Henri Bell has been sent to live with his great-aunt as his mother searches the globe for his missing father. Here, he makes a most unusual discovery - he can talk to insects. Henri will use this gift to take the circus world by storm and will set upon a quest to find the mythical Goliathus Hercules, allegedly a giant beetle found deep in the jungle. During his quest, Henri will uncover the truth about his father's disappearance and undergo a startling transformation of his own.

This was another e-galley I requested in my attempts to read more middle-grade. I am not huge on animal fantasy books - talking animals are definitely not my thing. But I thought it was interesting that this book is set around 1890 (though I've neglected to mention that in my summary up there) and I liked the idea of a quest for a possibly non-existent giant bug. I'm not completely sure how I feel about this one. It is long - about 350 pages or so - and it's not always terribly exciting reading. In many places, readers are faced with excessive description, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes just not interesting. For such a long book, there is a surprising lack of characterization - readers will spend about 350 pages with Henri but I don't feel like we know him all that well by the end of it. Certainly, we will have seen that Henri has changed over the course of those 300+ pages but without a definite idea of his character beforehand, I had a hard time sympathizing with the plights he undergoes throughout the novel's course.

Maybe I am obtuse, but I completely missed the vague references in the blurbs I've seen to Henri's own "transformation," so this element of the book completely took me by surprise when it started happening in the story. Additionally, I didn't really understand the point of it - in my mind, there was no reason for Henri to undergo his transformation. It didn't add anything to his story or message; in fact, to me, it seemed a bit of a cop-out. I may have liked the story better if Henri remained as he was initially, with emotional development as his biggest transformation. I'm not sure who the audience for this book is - I'm monitoring its circulation status in our library, so we'll see.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

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