Monday, March 7, 2011

Review - "The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable"

If a recent trend in youth literature is to be believed, our only hope for the safety of this planet and all who inhabit it rests in the still growing hands of an ever increasing group of tweenagers.  At least, it seems recent to me.  I've tried, and can't recall any globe-trotting, world-saving pre-teens in my youth, and outside of Tolkien's brave young hobbits, no one who really held of fate of all kinds in their small hands. The Harry Potters and Dan and Amy Cahills of today's world have such a large burden to bear on their young shoulders, it hardly seems fair.  The latest in this line of adventurous do-gooders are Coke and Pepsi McDonald, the twin heroes of Dan Gutman's new series The Genius Files, the first book of which, Mission Unstoppable, unfolds over the course of one eventful cross-country RV trip.
After discovering that a pair of bowler-hatted baddies want them dead and fleeing for their life off the face of a cliff, Coke and Pepsi learn that they are a part of a secret organization dedicated to saving the world as only super smart children can (their acceptance letter was overlooked by their distracted parents).  They are given an assignment by a couple of cagey adults they're not quite sure they can trust, and packed up by their parents for a trip across the country in the family RV.  Though they're heading east to attend a wedding, Coke and Pepsi's parents have planned many stops along the way, including the world's biggest ball of twine, the Pez museum and a location famous for that all American of canned meats, Spam (Mom just happens to run a website devoted to all things odd and unusual).  Along the way, the twins face ciphers and threats, cheat death a few more times and get closer to the truth about this mysterious organization and the man who founded it.
The Genius Files doesn’t have quite the same edge-of-danger thrill that comes with a volume of The 39 Clues, but there are some good jumps and chills here.  Gutman certainly knows his kids, and writes them very well.  The humor is spot on, and the actions are believable.  Spotted throughout the book are Google Map directions, ostensibly to let you follow along with Coke and Pepsi on their cross country tour, which I could have done without.  I don’t read with a computer handy all the time, and the instructions to follow the route were left alone.  I can see how kids accustomed to using their computers with their reading (thanks to books like Patrick Carmen’s Skeleton Creek series) would enjoy this aspect, however.  Also peppering the text are illustrations, real life pictures and “Welcome To…” signs, which makes the reading space a little crowded.  The book clocks in at 286 pages, but is quite a quick read.  I don’t think this series will fly off the shelf like some others have, but those who love the quirky humor of Gutman’s My Weird School and books like it will find a lot to enjoy in The Genius Files.

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman
2011, HarperCollins
Galley provided by publisher

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