Review: Return to Augie Hobble

Return to Augie HobbleReturn to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith. 9781626720541. May 2015. Gr. 4-6.

 

You probably know Lane Smith as a collaborator and illustrator extraordinaire of such great titles as It’s a Book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, and others. Return to Augie Hobble is his first middle grade novel, and in an interview done on Mackin’s Connext blog, he describes it as “funny and dark and somewhat autobiographical. It also has a lot of pictures.” That was more than enough to make me pick it up and read it!

Augie Hobble is a middle-schooler who lives with his parents on the grounds of a second-tier amusement park (and calling it second-tier is being generous). The park is struggling and, despite his dad’s best attempts to be enthusiastic and provide excellent customer service to the park’s visitors, something is always breaking down, and his dad has resorted to cheesy gimmicks to attract customers. Augie works in the park doing odd jobs, where all of the time he has to be polite and “in character” around the guests. This is hard when he is bullied and teased by other kids, and sometimes even harassed by adult employees, like the chain-smoking Moze Gooch, who plays the Big Bad Wolf at Fairy Tale Park.

On top of all of this, Augie has somehow managed to be failing Creative Arts in school, and has to come up with a passing project to turn in. A stabilizing factor in his life is his stalwart friend, Britt, who is, like Augie, not part of the “in crowd”, and marches to the beat of his own drum. But Britt goes off on a family vacation, and Augie is faced with tackling all of his life’s craziness on his own for awhile.

Part of the way through the book, a tragedy happens that adds heaviness to the book that I did not see coming. It balances out the zaniness and Smith does a great job tactfully reeling the storyline back in after what could have been derailing in lesser hands.

I found Smith’s debut novel disjointed; often when something is described that way, the reviewer doesn’t like it, but that isn’t the case here. This is a madcap tale and the disjointedness is a product of the zaniness contained within. Some readers may find it hard to follow, but it worked for me.

Smith’s illustrations are fantastic, and add depth and lots of humor to the story. Fans of heavily-illustrated books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid will appreciate this greatly. Return to Augie Hobble is a fast-paced, wacky, headspinner of a book that left me feeling like I was the one living in an amusement park!

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