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Alligators Overhead Paperback – June 29, 2012
McKenzie pens a swampy middle-grade story full of humor, hauntings, quirky characters and a mystery that continues to develop to the very end.
Twelve-year-old Pete is a small-town kid prone to mischief and trouble. Luckily, his best friend, Weasel, attempts to keep him in line. But when Pete develops a mysterious supernatural power that allows him to make anything he imagines come true, he’s in for some trouble that even he finds difficult to handle. Pete’s aunt knows a bit more about these powers than Pete; she’s convinced he has inherited traits and abilities in witchcraft from his ancestors, something she’d never told him, fearful that he wouldn’t comprehend how to harness his powers at such a young age. As Pete develops an understanding of his new talents, he searches for a way to use them wisely, with Weasel acting as a voice of reason and fully committed to staying by his side. While the themes and plot are certainly based in fantasy, the nature of Weasel and Pete’s relationship is grounded in reality and will be recognizable to young readers who’ve begun to understand the importance of compromise, healthy conflict and teamwork. As the two work together to save the day and solve the biggest mystery their town has ever encountered, they also learn about each other and their own powers to make good choices. In its twists, turns and surprises, the novel reads quickly and should keep the attention of any young middle-grade reader. With fresh language, loads of perky dialogue and unpredictable characters such as witches and talking alligators,McKenzie spins a tale that isn’t just entertaining; it also offers valuable lessons, as the cast of strange characters bond around common goals: save their swampland and deter a crisis. The folksy diction and lyrical, verb-heavy storytelling will leave readers turning the pages all the way to the end, where big surprises await and the real villains are revealed.
A short, fun story that will excite both young and old imaginations.
Alligators Overhead is a book for middle graders, but I am adult (probably twice over). I won a copy of the book and started reading it soon after.
It sucked me right in and I was that age again, right there with Pete and Weasel.They are so true to life. It had me on the edge of my seat most of the way through, especially toward the end. It is a great book to read with your middle graders, or even older.
A fantastic adventure tucked between the pages of this book and I highly recommend it.
What happens when you mix witches and warlocks, a mansion and alligators, mental telepathy and two twelve-year-old boys on a mission? You end up with an adventure, a mystery, a cast of unique characters, and a whole new attitude about alligators, that's what.
By Beverly's Reviews
ALLIGATORS OVERHEAD, Author C. Lee McKenzie's novel for mg/tween readers, takes the reader on a fast paced, never dull journey with Peter Riley and his friend Weasel in their attempts to save the Ornofree Swamp from being destroyed. On the way to achieve their goal, the boys explore a mansion that vanished years ago, but suddenly appears on the vacant lot by Pete's Aunt Lizzie's house. (He came to live with his aunt after his parents died.) They meet witches also on a mission to save the swampland, hunters determined to capture the alligators, and have to right a witch's spell that goes terribly wrong. As Pete and Weasel struggle to solve each problem, confidence in their abilities grows and each boy discovers strengths in himself to carry on, in spite of the danger they face.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
I’m C. Lee McKenzie, and Italia Gandolfo represents my young adult novels. You can connect with me on my blog http://cleemckenziebooks.com and receive a free gift. Come see me soon. Double Negative (Evernight Teen, 2014) is a book that turned me into an advocate for literacy. Sudden Secrets(Evernight Teen, 2014) is my fourth young adult novel. I wrote Sliding on the Edge (WestSide Books, 2009) after reading a news article about "self-abuse" among ivy league students. The Princess of Las Pulgas (WestSide Books, 2010) deals with a young girl and her family. They have everything and suddenly nothing. I also write for middle-grade readers, and I've just completed a trilogy about the adventures of Pete and Weasel. Book #1 Alligators Overhead, Book #2 The Great Time Lock Disaster, and Book #3 Some Very Messy Medieval Magic (Spring 2018). Sign of the Green Dragon is a stand alone latest adventure/fantasy with a lot of five-star reviews to its credit. I'm a native Californian, and after living a lot of different places in the world I landed back in my native state on the edge of a redwood forest. When I'm not writing or blogging I'm hiking or practicing yoga. Then there's that half acre of garden that needs a lot of love. If you like my books I'd love it if you'd tell me so. If you have some helpful criticism, I'd love that, too! I'm a writer and a reader, but first I'm a learner. Thanks for visiting today, and thanks for whenever you leave a review with your thoughts. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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MILD PLOT SPOILERS. Our hero Pete is an orphan, (parents died in a plane crash), who is living with Aunt Lizzie, his Mom's sister. Pete has been uprooted from the big city to live in nowhere-ville with Lizzie, on the edge of Ornofree Swamp, (which feels like a smaller swampier version of Okefenokee). Pete has a best friend, which helps, but out of boredom and out of resentment over his parents' deaths he is something of a discipline problem, with some mild acting out. The Pete we meet at the beginning of the book isn't very appealing, and one begins to fear that this is going to be a low-key, low stakes "problem" book. Not to worry.
Early on the book takes off when a house that disappeared a hundred years before suddenly reappears right smack next to Lizzie's house. "O.K.", you say; this is starting to pick up steam. In short order we learn the history of the disappeared/reappeared house, we go exploring the haunted mystery house, and we find out that there's a lot of magic and witchy stuff going on around the neighborhood. We also lose Pete-the-bad-boy and start moving into Pete-the-eventual hero territory. From here on there will be more adventure, a task for Pete, a rescue or two, a confrontation with some pretty bland bad guys and a resolution.
As I say, none of this is genre bending, but it is done well, and done with a consistent tone. (That is, it isn't jokey and then grisly and then romantic and then violent and then other-wordly and so on.) This is a mystery quest, self-discovery, hero story set in a magical swamp. The story is told straight up, with no winkiing irony and no attempt to make hip fun of the tale.
Indeed, what seems at first blush to be a bit precious - the active involvement of walking, talking alligators - turns out to be the smartest, most appealing, and most engagingly novel part of the book. Witches need familiars, and having witches who live by a swamp use alligators as familiars is a great idea. The alligators here pretty much steal the show. Different alligator characters come across as wise, funny, regal or at least diverting. The Elder alligator, (they don't like "gator"), passes the James Earl Jones test; if this were an animated film he would be voiced by James Earl Jones. That pretty much says it all.
So, my bottom line is that I would be happy to give this to a younger reader who expressed interest in magical adventure. It is clear, briskly narrated, propped up with a bit of exposition where it might be confusing, populated by recognizable characters, and energized by an alligator angle that works very well. Fine by me.
(Please note that I found this book a while ago while browsing books that were at the time Amazon Kindle freebies. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book, although I did once get a nice comment from the author regarding my review of a different book.)
I know, you may think that orphaned boys discovering magical powers has been done (Harry Potter anyone?). but Alligators Overhead is a delightful take on a familiar theme. Every young person is searching for identity. And while I have no personal experience, I'm sure most orphans are searching for a new sense of "home" and "family" after what can only be a tragic loss.
There are a couple of things that really made this book engaging for me. First, there doesn't seem to be a huge conspiracy among Hadleytown's witches, called "tellers," to hide. I mean, they aren't living right out in the open, but they also aren't using magic to hide themselves (unlike the great extents that wizards go to hide themselves from Muggles). They live perfectly ordinary lives - a baker, a craft shop owner, etc. This immersion feels very natural and makes the magic blend in well. It's just something they don't talk about.
Next, there is Weasel. He is not a witch (or warlock, as he so accurately points out). He's just a normal guy. And once he gets over the shock of having a warlock for a friend (although Pete's ability to wish food into existence is pretty cool), he adds real value to the story. He's not just some dippy non-magic sidekick along for the ride. Weasel is smart, probably smarter than Pete, and he uses those smarts to help his friend reason his way out of trouble. It's a partnership that works.
Perhaps one of the most delightful twists on the familiar "witches and wizards" trope are the alligators. No black cats or owls here. No, it is the alligators that serve as the familiars in Hadleytown. It is the oldest alligator, The Elder, who guides Pete through his most trying moment - the most critical point in is youthful wizard career.
All told, Alligators Overhead provides a delightful diversion for young readers and is a book that would especially appeal to boys. Pete is a friend whom they can related to, and who they can root on in his quest to save the Ornofree.