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The Order of Odd-Fish Hardcover – August 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—Thirteen-year-old Jo Larouche lives quietly in the California desert with her adoptive Aunt Lily, an eccentric former film star, and longs for something exciting to happen. She gets her wish and then some when Lily's annual costume party is crashed by an elderly Russian colonel ruled by his digestive system and a giant talking cockroach with a flair for the dramatic. Soon Jo and Lily are swept up by the Order of Odd-Fish, a group of knights devoted to researching useless information, and taken to the fantastical world of Eldritch City, where Jo learns the truth about her birth and destiny. This debut novel has many of the trappings of popular young adult fantasy titles, including an exotic setting, a dangerous villain, and a coming-of-age quest. However, Kennedy's clever plot, rich and fully realized setting, and often witty dialogue cannot compete with his dense, ridiculous prose (e.g., "He could not even think about the Belgian Prankster for too long before he would feel his soul dwindle and teeter on the precipice of being blasted to nothing by the sheer demonic grandeur of the Belgian Prankster."). Very few teen fantasy fans will be willing to wade through the text, no matter how likable the heroine and how fascinating the world of Eldritch City.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The basic plot of Kennedy’s first novel is fairly standard fantasy fare—Jo, a 13-year-old girl who gets whisked off to a strange world, discovers that she is a child of destiny and must combat evil forces bent on the destruction of the world—but it’s so dizzyingly arrayed with Monty Python–inspired window dressing that one might not notice. Jo is a squire to an order of knights dedicated to “fiddling about” and studying such topics as “the philosophy of napkins.” Talking cockroach butlers, a Russian colonel who takes orders from his digestive tract, and a villain called the Belgian Prankster, who wants to either destroy the world or tell the worst joke in history, are just a few of the blatantly weird characters that veer the story into the ludicrous at nearly every turn. Some might find it difficult to sustain interest in such determined high jinks, but in small doses, this is quite hilarious, and readers with a finely tuned sense of the absurd are going to adore the Technicolor ride. Grades 7-12. --Ian Chipman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (August 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038573543X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385735438
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #960,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I remember writing my first story when I was seven. It was called "The Strange Ship," and it was about two ghosts who visit a spaceship full of aliens and blow it up. After I illustrated it, drew a cover, and stapled the pages together, I was astonished. Producing a book was so easy! I felt as though I'd gotten away with something.

Encouraged, I tried something bigger: an epic that started with the creation of the world, progressed to a story about a talking Christmas tree and a dinosaur detective who fight against a grinning pile of hair and his army of squabbling freaks, and ended with the apocalypse. I kept rambling off into digressions and subplots, so I never finished, but that's why I enjoyed writing it so much. I discovered early on the pleasures of getting distracted.

The ability to get distracted is an easily misunderstood talent. Irresponsibility might be a secret virtue. Throughout grade school I left many stories unfinished; in high school I half-programmed a lot of computer games; in college I co-wrote a musical, but even though we got a cast together and rehearsed it, it was never properly performed. Yet I learned a lot by being undisciplined. Someone once wrote, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." Yes - and I'd add that if something is worth doing, it is also worth doing halfway and then quitting. It's also worth brooding over, and making lots of plans, and then going off and doing something else. Having many little interests, amateur enthusiasms, and failed ambitions creates a rich stew out of which you can boil fresh ideas.

I'd always wanted to be a writer, but for a while I abandoned writing. In college I decided I'd rather be a physicist. After getting my degree in physics, though, I realized I didn't want to be a scientist after all. I had friends who were in bands, so I learned how to play the guitar, but as soon as I was halfway proficient I stopped. I taught science at a junior high school, but then I stopped that too. I moved to Japan and came back after a year; then I moved back to Japan; then two years later I came back again. I took classes in improvisational comedy, but when it came time for real shows, I often dropped out.

We hear advice about how perseverance pays off. That's true, but I think the opposite is more interesting and equally true. My favorite experiences and ideas have come when I've wandered away from what I should've been doing. Maybe it's better to make a principle of fickleness, to deploy a strategic laziness, to be staunchly flighty.

By letting myself get distracted by interests other than writing, I gave myself something to write about. The specialties of the knights in "The Order of Odd-Fish" are almost all subjects I've been curious about at some point or another. The Odd-Fish lodge itself has its roots in the grubby convent I lived in when I was a volunteer teacher (a mishmash of queer little rooms full of junk nobody had touched in years, an attic seething with bats, fraying red carpet that smelled overpoweringly like cat urine, and a woozy, wobbly, extremely aged nun that trundled around the halls at all hours). Ken Kiang's failed musical is inspired by my own musical. The rituals of Eldritch City are partly based on festivals I saw and participated in while I was living in Japan. My tastes in reading are similarly scattershot, and "The Order of Odd-Fish" borrows from writers as various as Douglas Adams, Evelyn Waugh, Madeleine L'Engle, Edwin O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, James Joyce, J.K. Huysmans, and G.K. Chesterton.

Maybe I wrote "The Order of Odd-Fish" because I felt I'd be at home in an organization like it: a society of dilettantes, living together in a fascinating but homey lodge in a big city, bound together by weird but not oppressive traditions, contributing to each other's idiosyncratic projects, and occasionally going off on a quest. If I can't join the Odd-Fish, writing about them is a fair substitute. I suspect there's enough in Eldritch City to distract me for a long time. And when I eventually find myself going astray from that world, into new and irrelevant terrain, I'll know I'm on the track of something good.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are some books that are so great that you want to become an apostle for them, running around shoving copies into everyone's hands and forcing them to read it right then and there just so they can experience its pure awesomeness. The last book that made me feel like that was Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I made quite a few converts with my enthusiasm.

"The Order of Odd Fish" is one of those books. It has exactly what I need, the right balance of the bizarre and the horrible, of kitsch and cool, of fantasy and the fantastic. It is James and the Giant Peach as directed by Terry Gilliam, with hints of H.P. Lovecraft lurking around its darker corners.

The story begins with Jo Larouche, a "dangerous baby" who has been left in the care of her Aunt Lily, an 82-year old former actress who has retired with less-than-dignity in her Ruby Palace, a place of extravagant and wild costume parties and excess of every kind. Because this is a young fiction fantasy novel, we know that her world will soon be blown wide open, that the veil will be parted between the world Jo knows and the secret wonderland that she is inheritor to. The adventure begins with the arrival of Colonel Korsakov, a giant Russian who speaks to his own digestion, Sefino, a three-foot tall cockroach of flamboyant style with an impeccable ascot, and a mysterious black box with a silver handle that should never be turned.

Don't be fooled into thinking you know what happens next.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kate Coombs VINE VOICE on August 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Jo was discovered as a baby by the flamboyant actress, Lily LaRouche, inside a washing machine, accompanied by a note that read: "This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby." When our story opens, Jo is thirteen years old, living with Aunt Lily in the extravagantly moldering ruby palace in the middle of the California desert. The night of Lily's annual costume Christmas party, a Russian colonel whose actions are directed by his intestinal rumblings shows up, as does a narcissistic giant cockroach butler, not to mention a package for Jo that falls out of the sky. Chapter One ends, "After that, everyone had the leisure to start screaming."

Soon Jo and company are being chased by a billionaire with evil aspirations. They end up in Eldritch City, where Jo finds out just why she is considered dangerous and must continue to hide her identity from her newfound friends, fellow squires to the Knights of the Order of Odd-fish. The order is working on making, not an encyclopedia of all knowledge, but an appendix "of dubious facts, rumors, and myths.... A repository of questionable knowledge, and an opportunity to dither about."

As this task implies, author James Kennedy prefers to range along the road from the absurd to the ridiculous, stopping along the way in the outrageous. He also makes arguably masculine side trips into the realms of bodily functions and violence.

The plot is a little uneven in spots, perhaps because Kennedy combines one of those dark end-of-the-world story lines with the aforementioned nuttiness--and sometimes these two efforts seem to pull each other sideways. A few bits and pieces work better than others: I didn't quite buy the parts involving a pie-loving character called Hoagland Shanks, for example.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on August 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Jo Larouche has always been ordinary - or as ordinary as you can be when you live in a ruby palace with a highly eccentric retired movie star for an aunt. Though she was found in her aunt Lily's laundry room with a note detailing her as a dangerous baby, Jo has been for all of her thirteen years just about as dangerous as a glass of milk.

Things begin to change when strange events at Lily's Christmas party contrive to send Jo and Lily out of California and into a fantastical land called Eldritch City, where they are taken in by the Order of Odd-Fish, an eclectic collection of knights devoted entirely to the research of useless information. But that's just the beginning, for as Jo finds a new place for herself in Eldritch City, she also becomes entangled in a dangerous game with the Belgian Prankster, a villain who appears to be seeking the downfall of the city Jo has begun to call home.

A rollicking adventure for all ages, THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH has something for every lover of all things ridiculous. From obtuse and elaborate dueling rituals to cockroach butlers obsessed with seeking fame to a villain so sinister he can even make balloon animals terrifying, James Kennedy piles on oddities so fast that you can't help but dive in, and enjoy the stay.

Reviewed by: Rebecca Wells
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lorel Shea VINE VOICE on July 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
James Kennedy must have been channeling Roald Dahl when he wrote this book. It's a bit darker and more violent than the Dahl books, but fits right in with the oddball fantasy of Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. The Order of Odd Fish is written with an older audience in mind, as the length and vocabulary as well as the content are more on par with a 5th/6th grade reading level. Kids who enjoyed the Dahl books, and more recent releases such as The Mysterious Benedict Society or Gregor the Overlander will enjoy "Odd Fish".

The story opens with 13 year old Jo and her adopted aunt, an aged movie star, living in a crumbling mansion in the desert. When a mysterious gift arrives addressed to Jo, all heck breaks loose. Jo and Aunt Lily are suddenly on the run from the supremely wicked Ken Kiang, who,
"...sold his soul 23 times to any supernatural being who cared to bid on it. No Price was too low: the 15th time he sold his soul it was for a bag of barbeque-flavored potato chips. Ken Kiang had eaten the chips with indecent glee as the demon looked away in embarrassment." Their companions in flight are a portly Russian colonel and a giant cockroach who wears a smoking jacket. Thus begins their journey to the bizarre place known as Eldritch City.

This novel has another villain who is far more terrifying than Kiang. He is known as the Belgian Prankster. His stunts in the "real" world include turning the Eiffel Tower upside down and carpeting an entire city. In Eldritch City, people run from him in terror...

Kennedy's offbeat humor is apparent in every line, and his characters are fantastically strange. Jo is a likable girl and for most of the novel she appears to be an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. A great adventure story that will keep you guessing right up to the end.
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