- The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody (mg)
280 p. Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House Children's Books, November, 2011. 978-0-375-85596-2. (Chosen to review for InfoLinkNJ.)
The setting for this Steampunk time-travel adventure is New York City circa 1902 and the present. The reader meets Tommy Lerner first. He’s an orphan living on the mean streets of New York, doing what he needs to do to survive. When he steals a clockwork bird from a rich man’s coach, little does he know that he’s stolen from none other than The Dead Gentleman, who will stop at nothing to retrieve the bird. Tommy is saved in the nick of time by a crazy (in a good way) captain of a ship called The Nautilus and inducted into a league called The Explorers. They are trying somewhat unsuccessfully to prevent the Dead Gentleman from taking over Earth when Tommy is sealed into a cavern in the basement of a NYC apartment building.
In the present, twelve-year-old Jezebel Lemon is adjusting to her parents’ recent divorce and living in dual households. She loves exploring the nooks and crannies of the old building her dad has moved to. When renovators uncover a hidden basement, Jez feels compelled to explore it despite the warnings of the ancient, kind of creepy super. Little does she know that she’s about to uncover a portal to 1902 and Tommy, who was trapped in the basement.
The atmosphere is truly creepy and suspenseful. There’s plenty of action and gadgets, but the story is also complex and unfolds slowly. In Powerless, the author’s debut, he pays homage to Arthur Conan Doyle. Here, in his sophomore offering, he pays homage authors of adventure classics, such as Jules Verne.
Tommy and Jezebel are likable characters individually, and their bickering, when together, makes them all the more endearing.There's plenty of humor and action to keep the reader turning pages breathlessly. I haven't had the chance to process the book in my school library, but I just knew which of my "regulars" would swallow this whole. So I've already loaned it out on an "I trust you" basis to three of my spectacular readers, all of whom returned it quickly with thumbs up feedback.