Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review - The Dinosaur That Followed Me Home by Bruce Coville

Short review: Summer camp - a time to deal with obnoxious counselors, time travel, thirty foot tall man-eating dinosaurs, and the end of reality as we know it.

Travel to the past
Bring back some dinosaurs
No paradoxes

Full review: The Dinosaur that Followed Me Home is part of Bruce Coville's "Camp Haunted Hills" series featuring a summer camp dedicated to theatre and movie making where strange things seem to happen. The central characters, Stuart and Brenda, are a pair of campers who are the only two people at the camp who can see and hear the camp's resident ghost Roger. Roger is friendly and wants to be helpful, but also not real bright, so his "help" often causes more trouble for Stuart and Brenda.

Oddly, for a Coville book, there is no bully roaming about the make Stuart's life miserable. Instead, there is a jerk camp counselor named Flash who has a personal vendetta against Harry, a camp counselor that is friends with Stuart. (Flash dislikes Harry because Aurora, the most attractive female camp counselor, prefers the gawky but smart and sweet Harry to the handsome and cool but self-centered Flash). The book also introduces Brenda's cousin Winston to fill the position of the physically weak but smarter than everyone else kid.

The story itself is fairly simple, although at the same time enjoyably goofy and absurd. Flash sabotages several of Harry's projects, with Roger being the only one who sees him do so. Although Stuart and Brenda know about the sabotage (because Roger tells them), they can't really do anything about it because no one else knows about Roger. Eventually Roger takes things into his own hands and sends Flash back to the Cretaceous Period. Accidentally, Brenda, Winston, and Stuart all go too. Once there, they are beset with dinosaurs (fortunately, Roger can talk to dinosaurs), and when they find a way home they find they have been accompanied by three of the beasts.

Roger and Winston explain the rest of the group the dangers of creating a time-paradox (Winston using a classic example of doubling pennies on a chessboard to show how little changes can add up to big changes in short order), and the group has to figure out a way to send the dinosaurs home, while Flash decides that the dinosaurs have to stay so he can sell them to the highest bidder and make a pile of money.

The Dinosaur that Followed Me Home is a fast paced adventure story, and the characters are likable. The only trouble with the book is that there is a kind of forced atmosphere about it – it seems as though Coville tried to jam as many things into the story as possible: ghosts (who can talk to dinosaurs), time travel and time travel paradoxes, dinosaurs, a short-sighted teenage villain, and so on. The story still holds together, just barely, despite the weight of elements heaped upon it, but the book does still suffer somewhat. This is still a decent book for young readers, but it is simply too overloaded with disparate elements that don't hang together particularly well to be more than an average one.

Previous book in the series: Some of My Best Friends Are Monsters

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