December 24, 2014
(+++) MODERATELY LUCKY SEVEN
Swindle #7: Unleashed. By Gordon Korman. Scholastic. $16.99.
There is plenty of fun in the latest Gordon Korman book about Luthor, a Doberman and former attack dog, and the many preteens surrounding and interacting with him, notably Griffin Bing, “the man with the plan.” Griffin’s plans inevitably are over-complex and inevitably go just wrong enough to propel Korman’s narratives – Unleashed is the seventh book in the series – but then turn out to be just right enough to bring about a satisfying, if formulaic, conclusion. And so it is here. Luthor lives with Savannah Drysdale, and “in the Drysdale house, animals were treated as full family members. The menagerie included two cats, an ever-changing number of rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs, a pack rat, and an albino chameleon.” Plus Cleopatra, Savannah’s pet monkey. Animals are, as usual, one part of the plot of Unleashed, with the angle here involving Savannah trying to figure out why Luthor has taken to chasing cars – or rather one specific vehicle, an exterminator’s truck. As usual, the other plot elements revolve around the fractious relationships of the preteen humans, who in this case are all worked up about the “Invent-a-Palooza” competition at school, where Griffin is expected to excel, because his father really is an inventor. However, Griffin’s dad points out, “I know it seems like I’m tinkering around in the garage, but creating something that doesn’t already exist is really hard.” Sure is, especially when trying to defeat one’s arch-enemy at the same time: Griffin’s, Daren Vader, is also in the invention contest, and Griffin simply has to beat him (personality clashes aside, the two have a bet on who will win).
The Swindle series (which does not officially have that or any other “series” name, but whose first book was called Swindle) combines entirely expectable and expected events with less-predictable ones in a way that is pleasant, not very challenging to read or figure out, and inevitably packed with feel-good emotions at the end. In Unleashed, for example, it eventually turns out that Luthor’s behavior is a matter of generosity rather than anything nefarious – no surprise there, but exactly why the dog does what he does is one of those minor mysteries holding the narrative together. And the invention contest provides plenty of chances for oddball imaginings, such as Darren’s “self-feeding egg cooker” and Griffin’s “Hover Handler,” which is designed to stop Luthor’s truck-chasing but which mysteriously goes missing. And then there are the solar-powered salad spinner, toothbrush with built-in cell phone, self-propelled ice skates, and other things that are too silly to have been invented by preteens and in fact (it turns out) come from other places. The moral of the story turns out to be, “An invention is just a thing. Friends are way more important.” And that could be more or less the moral of all the books in this series. All this is certainly predictable – of course Griffin wins the contest, of course doing so in an unexpected way. But the whole book, and the series of which it is a part, are enjoyable enough to have fans looking forward to the next plan with its inevitable Code Z, which means “that the plan had to be abandoned, and pronto.”