BOOTS AND PIECES by Emily Ecton
After Stacy Sizemore, the snooty next door neighbor, goes missing, then turns up missing pieces, Arlie Jacobs is compelled to look into the mystery. Unfortunately for her, the mystery turns more into a dangerous walk through swampy horror to a tentacled monster that craves human flesh.
Emily Ecton is a new author, but she’s currently involved with NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! quiz show. Boots and Pieces is the first book of at least a trilogy. The Curse of Cuddles McGee should be on shelves now. Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments will be out first quarter of 2009.
I was unfamiliar with Ecton’s work, but she grabbed my attention immediately in Boots and Pieces. Her first-person narration of the story, playing the part of the irrepressible and smart-mouthed Arlie Jacobs, captivated me from the start. But the character that most stole the show was Mr. Boots, the Chihuahua that belongs to Arlie’s older sister, Tina. Tina is incredibly abrasive and obnoxious, but she’s also the toughest person Arlie knows.
The mystery of the swamp monster is a curious and entertaining mix between Scooby-Doo and honest terror. The monster does kill people, and not everyone escapes. I didn’t expect that from the tone, and the combination of slapstick and gore is unexpected and – sadly – hilarious. I don’t think Ecton intended to comment on the callousness of today’s youth, but they are more jaded than any kids that have come into this world so far.
The pacing in the book creaks a little, but Ecton’s still learning the game. The places where she shines is the dialogue between Arlie and her best friend Ty, and the interior monologue she keeps up as she explains her world to her readers. I’ve already ordered the next two books just to revisit her and her macabre spin on things.
In this book, things just get weirder and weirder. The action snowballs as the danger increases, because this is a real monster that KILLS people. I think that aspect kept the mix off a little for me, but Ecton made me bust a gut at times when it came to Mr. Boots. I love that dog and feel sorry for him for everything he went through in this book. However, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for him in the coming books.
Ecton has a real grip on the relationship between the sisters. I enjoyed the byplay and the confrontations. Arlie’s best friend, Ty, doesn’t stand out as strongly as I’d hoped, but there’s plenty of room to grow.
The cover was somewhat misleading because I’d expected something of a science fiction tale, but I had a good time with the book after I realized what I truly had. I love the artwork, and it’s the kind of cover that will pull kids to it.
Reluctant readers should find a familiar voice with Arlie, and enough excitement to keep them turning pages as they chase the swamp monster. But I wouldn’t give the book to younger kids even if they have an aggressive reading ability due to the violent content unless you’re sure they can handle it.
As for me, I’m looking forward to making the acquaintance of Cuddles McGee. An undead hamster? Mr. Boots is not going to be happy. Or safe, even!