Sunday, December 7, 2008

Review of Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman

As a child, I was stunned when I first came across the teacher’s edition of one of our elementary school class’s textbooks. Good lord, all the answers were in there! Our teacher didn’t need to know it all off the top of her head after all. Although, knowing Ms. Hernandez, she probably did anyway.

Even more powerful and useful is the tome 6th-grader Simon finds in a mysterious – or rather, it finds him (chooses him, as it turns out) by falling out of a rent in space/time and falling on his head. It’s called “Teacher’s Edition of Physics” but it is really a compendium of all the physics laws in the universe, handily distilled into magical formulas that, when uttered, allow the speaker to control particular aspects of physical laws, such as those governing gravity, friction, velocity, and so on.

Simon and his friends Owen and Alysha have quite a bit of fun with this, until two different factions – the members of the Order of Physics, plus a couple of nasty rebels intent on controlling the world – realize that Simon has the book and try their best to get it back. Much chaos ensues, as Simon and his friends battle against the others by temporarily changing and warping the laws of physics.

This is similar to last year's The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep by John Hulme in that a boy is chosen to become privy to the secret workings of the world while the rest of humanity ignorantly goes about its business. Like The Seems, this is written in sprightly and energetic language, with plenty of imagination and some amusing jokes and asides that pay homage to Reisman’s stated hero, the late Douglas Adams.

Also like The Seems, there is little real character development, the emphasis being on plenty of action and derring-do. This is a problem in the case of Simon, who – although a nice enough lad and certainly one whose tendency to daydream I can empathize with – does not seem in any way to earn the honor bestowed upon him by the amazing Book. He doesn’t seem particularly clever, insightful, or able to lead. Why is Simon chosen to be a Keeper, one of the most powerful people on Earth? Who knows? Kids probably won’t care, as Simon does a capable job as managing his new powers and fighting the Bad Guys.

Much more interesting is The Narrator. He’s British, of course; all the best Narrators are. Not only is he in fact the narrator of our tale, but he is also an intriguing, appealing, and enigmatic character in his own right. Truly, this story belongs to him, not Simon, a fact that seems to be borne out by a tiny twist at the very end of the book.

This is action-packed science-fiction with a light and humorous touch that should appeal to kids looking for adventure stories. As a bonus, readers may learn some basic laws of physics without even noticing.

Gr. 4 - 7

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