The Sleepwalker (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore
|The Sleepwalker (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A bitchy collection of annoying children secret agents finally leave the paintballing behind to investigate a major plane crash. A very lop-sided, insensitive and sour adventure read I would prefer teenage children to not read.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 336||Date: February 2008|
|Publisher: Hodder Children's Books|
A red-eye jet is leaving the USA for England at the start of this novel, just days away from the 2007 anniversary of 9/11. But that's not important as there are a unique bunch of annoying children, all gloating and ogling each other's body parts, barracking, and scrapping (does my bum look big in this catfight?).
On board the plane, things take a sudden turn for the worse – something makes a huge noise, and it turns turtle, before righting itself, only to lose height. But we needn't mind, the children are now going to have a semi-supervised race between two bodged golf carts they've souped up themselves.
The plane ditches in the Atlantic, with no hope for anyone's survival, not even the family of four we've been following (through tetchiness of their own), who have some familial link to the organisation the other children are a part of – who are now engaging in raucous adventure escapades, at dead of night, driving quad bikes, and shooting non-lethal ammo at everyone.
Oh, did I forget to say they're CHERUBs? - a select bunch of special, and special agent, pre-teens and teens, employed to be spies where a child would make much more sense than an awkward adult British government agent.
Elsewhere, a horrendously stereotyped Asian family (father all dodgy business and threats of deportation, mother merely subject to physical abuse, covering it up with lies and veils, child a confused and violent loner) might also have something to do with the downing of the plane.
How everything ties together may well make a great book, but this is not it. It disappoints me to say the escapades at night – some especially difficult training exercise – take us almost halfway through the book. While it helps a little with defining character, and is a cinematic and to-a-point engaging way of proving you can write a set piece, it is completely unneeded. The fact that this is followed by work experience episodes only belittles the death of nearly 350 people – what message is that, exactly?
The easily led teenage audience will also be gifted with a very rich vocabulary. I did start noting all the four letter words here (everything except the F and C ones), but gave up, and what's worse is the fact that it is not just the characters using them, but the narrator himself. This certainly left a sour taste in my mouth. It might lend a hipness and reality to the book (alongside the underage drinking, illicit nookie and everything else these heroes for our future are fans of) but it again is unnecessary.
What's galling is that the espionage and spying scenes are written with authority, and a critical level of realism. But even then the children have to be pandering to some absurd idea that British teens don't have a civil tongue in their head – always arguing, having verbal fisticuffs and disparaging everyone else. This might be the author's version of character conflict, but if so it is that reduction ad absurdum.
Reading elsewhere, and especially reviews by teenagers themselves, I find the books to be hugely successful – the eleventh in the series will join this and the previous eight before 2008 is out. And while they find the action exhilarating, the pace dramatic, the character interaction realistic (gawd help us) I have to put my foot down and say this is a very poor book. I cannot believe someone felt amenable to the Asian family being depicted as such, and the flippancy of the whole story to what should be important miffed me just as did the inappropriate language.
I am certainly not a fuddy-duddy, and certainly not a parent, but would consider this a very poor choice for any fantasy teenage child of my own. It bears little resemblance to British school life, as featured; regular, teenage goings-on; or any kind of sensitively or sensibly balanced teen fiction. A book that did not jar as much as this did with me might well be an acceptably enjoyable adventure, were it to have a decently plotted curve and writing I felt more comfortable with. The next regular volume in the series promises the best war game ever. Yeesh.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sleepwalker (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sleepwalker (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore at Amazon.com.
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