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The Flinkwater Factor (The Flinkwater Chronicles) Hardcover – September 1, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Ginger Crump lives in Flinkwater, IA. That may sound dull and boring, except for the fact that a screen saver or "screenie" is turning people into drooling zombies. Most people in town work for ACPOD, a Silicon Valley-like technology company. This means that most residents are of high intelligence. Ginger quickly figures out how to avoid getting "bonked" by the hidden code. She and her crush, Billy George, have to solve the problem while dodging the authorities who think they are terrorists. Hautman creates fun, smart characters with brilliant minds. Just when they think they have solved the "bonking" problem, a talking dog enters the scene, which takes the story in another hilarious direction, and readers meet even more colorful characters. While all of this is going on, Ginger is also concerned with the simple things such as, when will she finally get to kiss someone? Hautman includes a guide at the back of the book explaining which scientific details mentioned in the chapters are real or science fiction. Is the poop-net real? Readers will likely want to find out. VERDICT Middle grade fans of Carl Hiassen's mysteries will enjoy Hautman's inventive characters and plot.—Kris Hickey, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH
"Middle grade fans of Carl Hiassen’s mysteries will enjoy Hautman’s inventive characters and plot." (School Library Journal)
"Fast, funny episodes featuring creative takes on close-to-reality science." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Hautman, a National Book Award winner, makes his first foray into middle grade with this quirky, dryly funny offering of a maybe-future." (Booklist)
"Fast-paced action, quirky characters, and amusing dialog make this a quick, fun read with a satisfying conclusion." (School Library Connection)
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The burg of Flinkwater, Iowa is home to a super advanced computing/research/science facility and everybody in town is associated, one way or the other, with the weird and unpredictable projects being conducted there. Sometimes that stuff gets out of hand and the chaos spreads through the town. In many ways the underlying feel of Flinkwater, the interlocked stories that make up the book, and the quirky characters, are similar to what was done in the television show "Eureka", which had a similar premise.
Here, though, our narrator is precocious thirteen year old Ginger, a wise, observant, funny, slightly sarcastic, authentic and goodhearted self proclaimed science nerd. Ginger, who is one of the most engaging and refreshing middle grade heroines I've read lately, is the science/geek/tech girl that every cultural commentator has been looking for. She knows her science, is comfortable with computing and engineering, offers a lot of witty commentary on science nerd culture, and totally holds her own as the manic action unfolds.
As her sidekick, Ginger has Billy, the super genius guy on whom she crushes, and who has no idea that he is her boyfriend. That sounds cute or icky, but it's actually a pretty funny and rather charming twist on those old-fashioned romantic conventions about a girl setting her sights on a guy. This isn't a huge part of the book, but it adds a sweet bit of variety and humor to the narrative. More important are the secondary characters. You can't have an exotic and quirky town without exotic and quirky characters, and this book is loaded with mad scientists, nutty professors, sweetly befuddled scientists, villainous conspirators and a wide range of attractively odd sorts. Sort of like having lunch at the Engineering Quad cafeteria.
Interestingly, Ginger's parents, and many other helpful adults, are described and treated affectionately. They, in turn, can be rational, resourceful and patient. For example, every now and then Ginger calls her paranoid, ex-CIA Uncle Ashton for advice, and those conversations are a hoot. Or another example, Ginger's conversations with her mother are insightful and even touching, and reflect their mutual regard and conflict. The author never goes for the cheap, easy sarcastic out, but tries to do new and fresh things with such relationships. And of course Redge, the dog with a collar that broadcasts his thoughts, adds more gentle humor.
While there is an overarching plot of sorts, that mainly serves to string together a number of episodes and sub-plots so that this feels a little bit like an anthology with recurring characters. That's a pretty clever strategy for a middle grade book, because there are natural breaks and the plotting doesn't get too convoluted or tedious. This almost-episodic what-will-happen-next? approach suits the material and the narrator very well.
So, if you've been wondering where all of the funny high tech girl heroine action books for middle graders have gone, here's a really good one. (Two other things: 1) an engaging brief addendum addresses what in the book is real science, what's fiction, and what's in-between; 2) don't be mislead, the book's cover is younger, cuter, and simpler than is the book itself.)
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.