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The Curse of the Were-Hyena (A Monstertown Mystery) (Monstertown Mysteries) Hardcover – July 5, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—In this first title of a new series by the author of the "Chet Gecko" mysteries, Carlos and Benny are worried by the strange behavior of their favorite teacher, Mr. Chu. What does it mean when your teacher's hair starts growing rapidly and he begins laughing hysterically and randomly bullying students? With a little research and some help from the local comic book store owner, the boys find out that their teacher is becoming a shape-shifter and, even worse, if they don't do something soon, his transformation into a were-hyena will become permanent. Hale sprinkles the story with occasional illustrations that reinforce the high jinks, humor, and occasional suspense. The ethnically diverse characters add to the accessibility of this fun middle grade mystery. VERDICT This title will appeal to reluctant readers as well as students looking for something light and not too scary.—Jessica Marie, Salem Public Library, OR
PRAISE FOR MUTANT MANTIS LUNCH LADIES!"Along with trotting in a cast of exemplary diversity, Hale spins the scenario in such wild and hilarious directions that even the climactic release of whole garbage bags full of roaches in the crowded lunchroom isn't the grossest thing that happens. By the end though, all is set more or less right amid discussions of gender expectations and claims of mass hallucinations. 'Freakily freaking freakiness!" (to quote Carlos) on a high and gleeful level."--Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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PS: It's a great read for an adult too, but don't let the kids know
Through a cast of somewhat misfit adults, the boys --- and their new sidekick, Tina the Karate Girl --- make friends and enemies alike as they try to unravel the mystery of what is happening to Mr. Chu. They find their way to the Monterossa Museum of Arts and Culture, where the intimidating Mr. Sharkawy suggests to our protagonists that to become a were-anything would be an honor, and that to call it a “curse” is insulting. Carlos and Benny leave the museum feeling uneasy, but having made at least one ally: Ms. Icaza, a curator at the museum who specializes in African cultural artifacts.
What made WERE-HYENA such a fun and wild ride was the wisecracking and wit with which each plot point was delivered; not once is the reader spoken down to or treated as "less than." The book is riddled with pop culture references --- some modern and some more dated --- which often resulted in laugh-out-loud moments. Carlos’ sheer cheekiness and blunt sarcasm as a narrator were also truly endearing.
WERE-HYENA truly stands out from other books of similar genres for two very important reasons: its wonderful cultural representation and its depiction of a familial obstacle that is positive, despite being a stressor for the protagonist. The cast of characters come from many different backgrounds, with the narrator, Carlos, frequently using Spanish idioms and phrases, and other characters referencing their own unique cultures in subtle ways. This was done in an outstanding, polished way: with seamless integration, Hale manages to create a culturally diverse cast of characters that seems effortless. Future middle-reader and young adult writers would do well to take note. The same is true for Carlos’ family’s strife: ultimately it is a change to the family dynamic that is presented as positive, which is important in that it shows middle-readers that not all stress is inherently negative.
WERE-HYENA reads as if the Magic School Bus were mashed together with R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, with just a dash of Darren Shan’s tongue-in-cheek take on horror, to make it more palatable for young readers. This was truly endearing all throughout the novel; a Disney-fied horror-mystery is an excellent way to describe it as a whole. The major flaw in WERE-HYENA, however, is the lack of female characters. The adult cast is relatively balanced, but Tina is the only major female protagonist --- and she could have been used more! I look forward to seeing more of her character in the upcoming sequel in the Monstertown Mystery series.
A fantastic read all around, WERE-HYENA is an excellent book to get reluctant readers engaged in reading. The book is clearly targeted towards fourth graders, although I would suggest that precocious third graders should read it, and parents can enjoy reading it aloud to their children (while finding things to enjoy about the book on their own). Bruce Hale has written a truly charming horror-mystery-gone-comedy novel, and I for one am excited to see what happens next in Monterossa.
Reviewed by Adrian Meyers
The story is intense with some great humor and a mysterious town filled with things that go bump in the night. Wonderful!!