Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

A few weeks ago, AJ found that he had some money left on a bookstore gift card and we headed off to spend it. After wandering through the bookstore for a while, he ended up with a book neither of us had ever heard of before, Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs. AJ was attracted to the large cartoon hippo lying on its back with its legs in the air and xes for eyes. Clearly this was a book about a dead hippo.

But it's much more interesting than that. Belly Up is a terrific murder mystery that keeps you guessing until the bitter end. It takes place in a zoo and is full of interesting information about animals and zoos, which AJ loves. But what he loves even more is that it is funny. Teddy is a smart and somewhat cynical 12-year-old kid, the son of the Funjungle's resident ape expert and wildlife photographer, who suspects the recent death of the zoo's mascot was no accident. Teaming up with the celebrity daughter of the zoo's wealthy owner -- and with a little help from mom and dad -- Teddy sets out to find out how Henry the Hippo really died.

Belly Up is Gibbs' first book and it's a good one. It's also a particularly good one for gifted readers, I think, because it's a smart and interesting story and the vocabulary is more complicated than you often see for this age group. That said, some reviewers at Amazon have expressed discomfort with some of the language, which includes some minor swearing. Personally, I didn't find anything too egregious but if you are the kind of parent who is less tolerant of that kind of language, you might want to preread the book and see what you think.

My one beef with this book is the editing. It is possibly the worst copyedited book I have ever read. And that's saying something. There were so many extra words and omitted words, that it detracted from the story. AJ and I were reading it together and it got to the point that when we'd sit down to read, AJ would say "how many mistakes do you think we'll find tonight?" The most problematic of the errors is when one of the minor animal characters changes it's name in one chapter from Henrietta Hippo to Hildegarde. I was half tempted to mark up the book and send it back to the publisher. This author deserves a better showing than this. It's a terrific story well told. The book's quality should match the work the author has clearly done.

But if you can get past the errors in the text, AJ and I each give Belly Up two thumbs up. We hope there may be a sequel, or at least another book, from Gibbs in the not-too-distant future.

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