Though I'm not that fond of H.P. Lovecraft, I like books with a hint of Lovecraftian style -- novels that leaven Lovecraft's weighty Gothic sensibilities with just enough quirk to let us know it doesn't take itself too seriously. This novel is one of the best examples of the Lovecraftian I've read - and while not technically marketed to YA, it crosses over perfectly.
Summary: Harrison Harrison - H², as his mother calls him - is the fifth male of that name in his family - H²5. Harrison the Fourth was killed in the accident that lost H²5 his leg when he was just a toddler and their boat overturned somewhere on the California coast, and from that accident, Harrison remembers... tentacles. And rings of pointy teeth. That's entirely wrong, of course. A piece of metal seriously injured Harrison's leg, there aren't any toothy, tentacled monsters in California, regardless of what he remembers...and regardless of the lingering terror of water which it seems will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Aside from an irascible grandfather and an incredibly flighty aunt, most of H²'s family is in Brazil and his mother is all he has left. When she's in Absentminded Professor Mode, which is most of the time lately, he fends for himself, which is why he's come along to Massachusetts on her latest research venture. Harrison and his mother are trucking across country to the grim little Northeast coastal village of Dunnsmouth, because there have been sightings of something ginormous in the water - possibly a giant squid. Dr. Harrison's just going to set out buoys at certain GPS coordinates, buoys which will ping back information to the computers at the research center in San Diego. Only, Harrison isn't feeling like Dunnsmouth is an entirely healthy place. The kids in the junior class all look the same - pale with dark hair, like an extensive cult of sun-avoiding vampire zombies. The teachers are another lot of weirdies, the villagers scuttle about bearded and gloomy like something out of Melville or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and some weird half-fish dude - no, seriously, he was slimy and he had gills - stole Harrison's comic book. Exactly WHAT is going on in this freaky little town? And, why does his stump hurt here all the time? When Harrison's mother vanishes - the mysterious little town turns deadly. All Harrison wants is some straight answers and his mother back, - NOW - but it will take heart, determination, and the team of total misfits he's gathered to help him.
You KNOW you want to read an excerpt, so here, have one.
There's a lot to like here: The obvious ODD in this novel just sells it for me, from the tentacle-festooned cover onward. It hooks the reader, and drags them seamlessly beneath waves of sheer weirdness. Strange, strange people - with characterization that liken them to sea life - descriptions of the grayish little town with its clammy weather, depressing architecture and this utterly bizarre school - I was taken in immediately. I loved the dry humor, the references to Dr. Harrison's Terena ancestry and H²5's biracial "Presbyterian"-Terena ancestry (according to Harrison, “like 'eggshell' and 'ivory,' 'Presbyterian' is a particular shade of pale”) being cause for concern in the very white, very backwards Massachusetts village - an oppositional poke to the racism that shows up in H.P. Lovecraft's work - in fact, in general, racists become a little joke poked at repeatedly. It's interesting how Harrison's fatal flaw - a rotten temper - works for him and against him. He's truly a take charge of things in his own life, and make them work kind of character.
Harrison's voice is confiding, snarky and bewildered by turns. He's slightly delusional in the beginning of the novel, but unlike many YA heroes, he's never self-deceiving. I love him as a character because he KNOWS there's stuff going down in Dunnsmouth, and he's not afraid to look at it and find out. Also, because he's hilarious. To wit: "Mom once said Selma wasn't a woman but an ad in a women's magazine: glossy, two-dimensional and smelling like a perfume insert." Snark! The zingers are a great deal of fun, even the dumb science jokes and the manga references. Each chapter begins with a piece of Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which is another lovely thing that will make readers feel smart - especially if you were a reader assigned this for school and never enjoyed it before - you will now! All told, this novel is sheer enjoyment.
I received my review copy of this book courtesy of Tor. After March 24th HARRISON SQUARED by Daryl Gregory will be available as an ebook or at a brick-and-mortar independent bookstore near you.
Snap it up.
X-posted at Finding Wonderland