One of the fun things about writing for this blog is that I get to read books to review them. Since this isn’t exactly a sub-genre I read a lot of, it’s both challenging and amusing to delve into YA stories about highly unusual schools. Not all the books are as well done as The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, or the Neffy Award-nominated Zero Blessing by Chris Nuttall (Congrats, Chris!) but the ones I’ll review on this blog are the treasures well worth reading. Furthermore, they are the ones I’ll tell my kids they should read, too.
The book opens with our Hero, a middle-school aged boy, in reanimation class. He’s not at the University in the title, but the junior school, aptly named for Dr. Moreau. I’ll say two things about this book you should know going in: there are a ton of reader cookies for the parents. I’m not sure how many 12 year old boys, just to use my son as an example, would know who Dr. Moreau is, much less have read the book he appears in. But that’s ok. If your young reader likes this book, you can easily use it as a springboard to explore the whole sub-genre of monstrous fiction. I think it’s a great idea if you have a budding mad scientist!
Second note on this book: it is very rich in described detail. If you’re all about being able to visualize exactly what the author is seeing in his mind’s eye, this is going to be a pleasure for you. And there are little things that just made me giggle out loud. I may have a puerile mind, but the phrase ‘gerbil juice’ gets me every time. Not to mention the scene it appears in – but I will leave that to read for yourself.
The book may open in a fantastic school, but events that transpire in the first chapter see our Hero pitchforked reluctantly into an ordinary public school where he immediately falls afoul of bullies, and makes a friend. The struggle of a junior mad scientist to fit in and do well, feels a lot like tales my Odd friends tell of their educational experiences, and I expect this will resonate with young readers as well.
I’m not going to summarize the plot. As with most of the fantastic school tales, this story offers a way to explore the magical (well, mad sciency, but fantastical because it’s not hard science by any stretch of the imagination. The lad is named for the most famous mad scientist of all, Dr. Frankenstein) world alongside the mundane. The child with special abilities – in this case, special knowledge of the mad world’s science – struggles to fit in, to become comfortable in a society that will never full accept them, and to learn to live with themselves. In University of Doom, the young hero is aided by his loving, albeit gruff, father, and an unlikely friend. It may sound like a trope, but Acevedo’s wry take on the science, the fun, and the totally absurd is well worth reading, and passing on to the young aspiring ones in your life. Mad Science Rules!