Monday, April 18, 2011

Review - "Lizard Music"

I've read some strange books in my time. There's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which was not nearly as weird as it could have been), the Hitchhiker's canon, The True Meaning of Smekday (a personal favorite of mine), etc. I like strange. It makes a welcome change from the everyday, every once and a while. But I have never in my life read anything as wondrously strange as Daniel Pinkwater's Lizard Music.
I'll admit this is my first Pinkwater title, though I've had a copy of The Neddiad hanging around the house for a few years, unread. I ordered Lizard Music on the recommendation of Elizabeth from A Fuse 8 Production. Originally published in 1976, it was reprinted this year by The New York Review Children's Collection.
Eleven-year-old Victor has been left alone in his home for two weeks, first by his parents who have gone on vacation, then by his older sister Leslie who is supposed to be watching him but leaves for a Cape Cod camping trip instead. Left to his own devices, Victor stays up past the late night movie and sees something extraordinary: Lizards playing instruments. From here on out, it's one strange occurrence after another. Victor meets a man on the bus most consistently known as the Chicken Man who seems to know something about these strange lizards, but good luck getting a straight answer. Victor's investigations finally lead him to the island of the lizards, where questions are answered, in a way, and everything is strange and marvelous, but almost familiar.
I've heard from reputable sources that this is the perfect middle grade novel for boys. Not being a boy, I can't attest to that fully, but I can certainly see the appeal. Victor living on his own fulfills an independent fantasy most children have, and his adventure with the Chicken Man has everything you need for a good read. It has mystery, excitement, conspiracy theories, chickens and an expected but satisfying conclusion. I can very easily see boys getting into the strange elements of the story, and even starting to look for strange occurrences in their own lives because of it. The book is dated, however, and some references will float over the heads of modern readers. How many eleven-year-olds these days know who Walter Cronkite is? Thankfully, these outdated elements don't take away from the clear and entertaining storytelling. Thanks to the new reprint, I can imagine this book being around for years to come.
Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater
2011, The New York Review Children's Collection (originally published in 1976)
Library copy

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