Harrison Squared. Formally known as Harrison Harrison. Or, to be exact, H²×5. Despite some consternation about the name, it is an excellent book. However, followed so quickly after reading Kraken, I will note my suspicions of the order Teuthida. I’m just saying–I’d think twice about visiting the Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Or stick with the jellies.
“‘There are questions in that book,’ the professor said. ‘Important questions, buried in page after page of interminable droning. Isn’t that always the way, though?’
‘I was kind of hoping for answers,’ I said.
‘You can’t have quality answers without quality questions,’ he said.”
Harrison has decided to accompany his mom on her research trip to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, he’s sixteen, which means attending the local school for the month or two the project will take. Harrison has a healthy degree of suspicion for the atmosphere in his (hopefully) temporary school. With good reason: the building looks more like a tomb, there’s morning religious services in an incomprehensible language, and the cafeteria ladies are gutting live fish in the back of the kitchen. Action picks up fast, so in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll say while it didn’t head in entirely unexpected directions, the plotting makes interesting work of intertwining Harrison’s past with his present circumstances.
I loved the characters, from Harrison, to the librarian, to Lydia, to Aunt Sel. Told in first person, Harrison’s voice is perfect, a blend of naiveté and intellectualism that works perfectly for the child of two scientists. The school staff is suitably odd in vaguely creepy ways. Take Mrs. Velloc, who “seemed to be constructed of nothing but straight edges and hard angles, like the prow of an icebreaker ship… her nose was sharp as a hatchet, her fingers like a clutch of knives.” But Mom is a counter-whirlwind of force: “‘Thank you,’ Mom said. It was the ‘thank you’ of a sheriff putting the gun back in the holster after the desperados had decided to move along.” I worried a little when Aunt Sel appeared–there was so much potential for the trope-ridden clueless adult–but it turned out my worry was completely unnecessary. Aunt Sel was a delight, and most certainly a new role model for me: “For lunch, Aunt Sel refused to consider the food court (‘Because all the food has been found guilty’), and led us to a Mexican restaurant attached to the mall, where she could order a margarita.“
Mood was spot-on for me, balancing humor and horror, slowly adding tension and then leavening it. I was pleased to note an absence of maudlin sentimentality that I feel so often ruins a young adult book for me. It is fairly comparable to Gregory’s novella We Are All Completely Fine (review), in tone and events. Having read that book, it was especially intriguing knowing Harrison’s eventual destination, but nothing about the road he traveled to get there. I love Gregory’s writing; for me he hits an enjoyable blend of clever description, interesting characters, fun dialogue and nicely paced plotting. I highly recommend reading both Harrison Squared and We Are All Completely Fine.
Just beware the tentacles.
Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for a review copy.