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3 out of 4 stars
Review by PashaRu
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Especially because, well, Charlie has a pet triceratops in his basement.
This is what we learn in the first chapter of The Guttersnipes by author Scott Eric Barrett. It was published in 2015 by Vanguard Press and is available on Amazon as both a paperback and ebook, and on B&N as a paperback. Barrett, a freelance writer, has published many articles in newspapers, journals, and other publications; this is his first foray into novel writing. The Guttersnipes is aimed squarely at a young audience, but adults might enjoy the adventurous tale as well.
The story starts out in Sunnyville, Arizona in the year 1982. Charlie’s pet triceratops, named Trike, is just about his only friend in the world. When Trike is kidnapped by “a skeleton lady and a seven-foot cat monster,” Charlie and his new friend Artimus – who knows where she lives – go to her house on Hamburger Drive to get him back.
What follows is a rollicking adventure involving time travel, supernatural people with otherworldly abilities, monsters, mysteries out the wazoo, twists, turns, and the one and only P. T. Barnum himself, who plays an important role in the last two-thirds of the novel. The bulk of the story, in fact, takes place in New York City in 1865 during a street cleaners’ strike, when the streets were fetid with garbage and horse feces. Charlie, without intending to, falls in with a group of guttersnipes in the city, while Arty is cared for by a kind minister whose main mission is to help as many of New York's street kids as he can. Barnum’s American Museum and some of its well known “freaks” are featured in the book as well. And it seems that certain powerful and sinister people – in both 1982 and 1865 – want to get their hands on a journal that is full of mysterious, priceless information; some are even willing to kill for it. It is the juxtaposition of two regular – if not socially awkward – kids against all of these weird happenings, creatures, and people that helps to create the dramatic element in this raucous, rowdy tale.
The story is fast-paced with all kinds of action, adventure, weird creatures, bad guys, mystery, and fun. The 250 pages fly by fairly quickly, as Barrett peppers the book with as many questions as answers, and you want to keep reading to find out how it all fits together. Charlie is the main protagonist, but the antagonist role is shared by several characters that are fairly well portrayed, especially the evil and dangerous Nasten Cobblestine in 1865 New York.
While it’s fun to read a book that keeps you guessing, I had many more questions than answers when I finished the book. It’s clearly the first book in a series, and Barrett certainly didn’t intend to wrap everything up by the end of the story; still, mysteries and questions about new characters pop up fairly frequently throughout the book – especially as end-of-chapter cliffhangers – but most are never fully explored or explained. Some characters are not fully introduced; they just show up and start in with their part of the story, and I was left wondering who they are and where they came from.
Much was left unresolved in the end; I had a lot of questions about many of the other characters in the book – who they are, where they came from (some don’t even seem like they’re from earth), how they relate to one another, how they relate to the plot, etc. It gets a bit confusing, and the smoke never completely clears. Even the basic question of how Charlie got a pet dinosaur is never addressed, and Charlie and Arty seem to have a take-it-in-stride reaction to the bizarre characters and events they collide with.
I’m not sure if this "missing" information was intentionally left for future books, or if the author’s inexperience as a novel writer is peeking through. Structurally, it has some flaws. Even though it’s the first book in a series, readers need to feel a sense of resolution and feel as though they have their minds around the basic plot elements in preparation for the next installment. Some questions were answered in the final chapter, but for me, too many pieces of the puzzle were still missing or inadequately explained when I finished the book.
The part of the story that takes place in 1865 New York City is fun to read, and the author did a fair amount research in an attempt to bring it to life. Barnum’s museum receives the same treatment. Fictional characters and events occupy center stage, but they play in front of a historical backdrop of real places and events. The dialogue in this part of the book, however, is often anachronistic; characters sometimes speak using late-20th century slang and vernacular. This partially spoils the historical ambience that should be maintained, and more than once it jerked me out of the setting that I was trying to immerse myself in.
The writing style is commensurate with the intended audience; it’s easy to read, even if plot holes are not all nicely spackled up by the end of the book. It certainly is professionally edited, as I found nary a typo or grammatical error.
I can recommend this book to young readers who enjoy action, adventure and light fantasy. Charlie is a likable, if not fully explored, character. The ending contains some surprises, with a good overall climax; I found parts of it a bit disappointing, while at the same time there were a couple of bold twists that I didn’t expect. For that, I applaud the author.
Because of confusing plot elements along with characters and events that lack sufficient background or explanation, I would rate The Guttersnipes 2.5 stars if I could. Since that rating is not available, and it’s a fun, entertaining read, I’m more comfortable giving it 3 out of 4 stars than 2 stars. It will be interesting to see what further adventures lie ahead for Charlie, with hopes that the author presents a clearer plot and storyline in the next installment.
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Like PashaRu's review? Post a comment saying so!
― Ernest Hemingway
sdeerfield82 wrote:Great review! Despite your minor reservations about character development and some missing information, I think I will check this one out. It sounds like there is enough substance to make it a fun and interesting read and hopefully the second installment will be more fleshed out.
Thanks, hope you enjoy it! I'd love to know your thoughts when you finish.
cresent wrote:By the review,it looks like a book worth checking out
Despite its flaws, it's an enjoyable read.
bookowlie wrote:Awesome review! I don't normally use the word awesome, but I had to pull it out of the cobweb corner of my brain for your review. You gave me such a clear idea of the good, bad, and everything in between in this story. Despite the confusing plot elements and underdeveloped characters, the book sounds intriguing. "Mysteries out the wazoo"....almost worth reading the book to see if I agree with your assessment. Well done.
Thank you so much for your kind comments!
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