A boy wakes up in a grassy field and discovers that his trousers are on fire, though fortunately it doesn’t hurt a bit. A lonely girl wonders why a fully functioning grandfather clock is standing on a patch of wasteland (she also wonders why it seems to move a few metres each day. Grandfather clocks aren’t in the habit of wandering round the landscape). Even if you hadn’t read the blurb you’d know already that this book is going to be full to the brim with fun, mysteries and oddities. Add to that a large, welcoming typescript and some very funny illustrations, and you have a book that both boys and girls will want to settle down and read.
Barney gets to know Gabby, the President (and so far, only member) of Geek Inc. almost by accident, but he’s soon glad he did. Strange things are happening around the school, centred on a scruffy small boy with, as Gabby tactfully puts it, personal hygiene issues. His name is Lewis, he appears to be keeping a trained bird in his schoolbag, and he insists his pencil sharpener is alive.
Barney and his new friend Gabby set out to investigate, and soon stumble across all manner of other mysteries. Mind you, no one could call Blue Hills High School normal, even at the best of times: a tiny blonde girl controls the school by reporting all the pupils’ embarrassing little secrets in the school paper, and the bigger boys amuse themselves by ordering people to act out a range of Honourable Deaths in the playground each day. And it’s not just the school: soon weird things are happening to people in the town too, including a member of Gabby’s own family.
Stories which start in a familiar setting like a school, and then introduce a factor which reduces the rules and routines of everyday life to an anarchic muddle are always welcome to young readers— maybe because the mere hope, the slightest possibility of a sudden attack of craziness makes even the dullest lesson bearable. What if the science teacher with the sticky-up hair is actually an alien? Supposing the PE teacher with the big teeth really does eat children for breakfast? After all, he’s threatened to often enough. Children love and are utterly open to suggestions of the bizarre in the ordinary, the sillier the better, and many authors are rightly popular because of precisely that blend of mundane and absurd. Zoe’s stepmother in Ratburger by David Walliams is so lazy that she asks Zoe to pick her nose for her; Mr Gum has a fairy in his bathtub which periodically prangs him round the head with a frying pan (You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! by Andy Stanton), and in George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, the grandmother, who has a small, puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom, grows as tall as a house. And the good news is, this book is the first in a series, so readers will soon be able enjoy even more daffy adventures with the likeable members of Geek Inc.