Image: A blue building with 10 windows lit up in orange and yellow with various figures seen in them, including a long orange monster, two children, and a mean-looking old woman. Text: "Pushkin Children's. Duncan Versus the Googleys. Kate Milner."

KidLit Book Review: Duncan Versus the Googleys by Kate Milner


Synopsis

Duncan just wants to spend all summer at home playing games on his phone. Instead, his parents leave him with his Great Aunt Harriet at Arthritis Hall retirement home, a community of hostile old ladies with a diabolical secret…

Duncan quickly befriends Ursula, the caretaker’s daughter who knows every secret passageway in the building, and the two must work together as they become embroiled in a plot involving bizarre electronic creatures, a sinister knitting circle, and acts of ingenious thievery.

Duncan Versus the Googleys is a brilliantly madcap crime caper, in which two resourceful children try to outwit a fiendish group of criminal octogenarians. Aren’t grown-ups supposed to be the sensible ones?


Details

  • Title: Duncan Versus the Googleys
  • Author/Illustrator: Kate Milner
  • Cover Artist: Kate Milner
  • Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
  • ISBN: 1782692517
  • Publication Date: June 15, 2021
  • For Ages: 9-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 🎃 Fun.

I’d like to thank Pushkin Children’s Books for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Duncan Versus the Googleys is a Dahlesque treat that feels both modern and timeless. Featuring a technologically advanced criminal conspiracy, outrageous characters with equally outrageous names like “Mrs. Linoleum Grunt,” and a highly suspicious knitting circle, this rollicking story is sure to delight kids who enjoy a good caper. Simultaneously wacky and menacing, the book’s propulsive sense of adventure and wry observations on human nature make it a sophisticated, winning middle grade mystery.

Forced to spend his vacation at the oppressively dusty and boring Arthritis Hall while his parents jaunt off to Japan, Duncan runs into all sorts of trouble. The owner (the aforementioned Mrs. Grunt) detests children and tries to confiscate any of his belongings that might make the summer bearable. His Great Aunt Harriet wants nothing more than to get rid of him, either by locking him in a spare room or by forcing him to stay with the poor caretaker and his feral urchin of a daughter, Ursula. And a horrible monster is roaming the walls, trying to get its claws on anything that moves! As Duncan and Ursula wonder how they’re going to survive the summer, they uncover a mystery that threatens the entire world and realize that they’re the only people who can prevent the calamity.

Debut novelist Kate Milner has a knack for capturing the nasty side of humanity in a hilarious way that can best be described as hopeful pessimism. Roald Dahl’s influence on her writing is obvious, especially in her adult characters, who at best are cowardly and ineffectual and at worst are casual sadists with an irrational hatred of children. (Though, in true Dahl fashion, some of her younger characters aren’t much better.) Her ironic humor keeps the story moving briskly, though, without ever descending into despair.

Any story that relies on technology as heavily as this one does runs the risk of becoming out of touch before it’s even been published. Milner avoids this problem through some kind of alchemy whereby she combines current technological obsessions and worries with a classic storytelling style and a timeless sense of childhood chaos. The lunacy and dark humor of her plot make this high-tech throwback work; the story feels like it should go off the rails at any moment, but it never does. With a riveting narrative, memorable characters, and plenty of ironic wit, Duncan Versus the Googleys is a wild ride and a refreshingly cynical book that announces an intriguing new voice in middle grade fiction.


Rating

I’m ready for more of Milner’s books! I give this book 4.5 out of 5 coffins.

4.5 Coffins


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