First Paragraph: IT ALL STARTED WITH A FIELD TRIP. AND BEFORE you start expecting stuff about Greek gods or me being bitten by a spider that turned me into some kind of superhero—sorry to disappoint you. This isn’t one of those stories. At least my field trip wasn’t to a museum, but it wasn’t anywhere cool like Universal Studios either. I go to Lompoc Middle School in California, where expectations are high, but the budget is low. So for our field trip, we went to a chicken farm. Which actually turned out to change my life.
What a great opening paragraph that is, Esteemed Reader. I could spend the whole review talking about it (don't worry, I won't). It hooks the reader in the last sentence with a straight throat grab. Less subtle openings get set aside:) The reader has to wonder how a trip to a chicken farm can change someone's life. But more important than establishing setting, which Bradley does, smoothly, this opening paragraph establishes tone (and possibly voice, though the way editors talk about voice sometimes, I'm not sure I know what voice is anymore or if I ever did).
F.T. Bradley has been a long time Esteemed Reader of this blog and I take great pleasure in reviewing her book, the same pleasure I'll take in reviewing your book when it's ready, Esteemed Reader. She's my Facebook homie and her new book, Code Name711, the sequel to Double Vision comes out Tuesday. You should go ahead and pre-order it now (if I'm going to shamelessly plug, I should at least include a link to buy the author's book--that's two links!).
So 12-year-old Lincoln Baker, or Linc, is at a chicken farm with his sixth-grade class, in a scene written with amusing descriptions, such as:
One of the chickens made a noise and pooped. Then another did the same: chirp, then poop. Chirp, poop.
I'm not going to spoil it for you, but in a hilarious episode, Linc manages to be swarmed by chickens and the whole thing ends up on YouTube. Linc lands himself in big-time trouble as Farmer Johnson hires some big shot lawyers and threatens to sue his poor (formerly middle class, I'm sure) family for everything they've got. And, of course, Linc's in trouble at home. Witness how Bradley tells us about her protagonist while expertly rooting the exposition in conflict as Mom deals out the punishment:
Mom had just come off her shift when we got home around one, and she was waiting in my room, ready to let me have it.
I’ll save you the whole Linc-Is-in-Trouble-Again speech, because if you’ve ever been in trouble, you know what those sound like.
Here’s the recap.
1. I was grounded for the rest of the year (it was November, but still).
2. No TV, even though all these new shows are on (an argument that fell on deaf ears with Mom).
3. No skateboarding (my sole mode of transportation). Not that it mattered—see number one.
4. No going over to Daryl’s, who has an Xbox, unlike me. So no video games, even if I just got to level five on Racing Mania Seven (another argument that fell on deaf ears).
It's all fun and games until secret government agents show up. They've seen Linc's chicken antics on YouTube (tax dollars well spent) and they have an intriguing proposition:
“What’s this?” I looked at the grainy picture of a kid, in black cargo pants and a black polo shirt. He had dark hair, blue eyes—and he looked just like me, just a lot more serious. “There’s this blond streak down the front of his hair, but …”
“Looks just like you, right?” Agent Fullerton looked excited. “Uncanny.”
“What? Everyone has a double.” I handed the creepy picture back and sat down in one of the plastic lawn chairs. “Why are you here?”
“One of the kids from your class stuck a video of you at the chicken farm on YouTube. Our scanning software has been searching for a match, but we didn’t think you’d be this close.” Agent Fullerton tucked the picture back in his pocket. “We’re here to make you an offer. The kid in the picture is Benjamin Green. He’s one of Pandora’s top secret agents—and he’s gone … missing.”
I could tell you more, but we all know where this is going right? Lincoln Baker is about to pose as a secret agent on an incredible mission during which he may just save the world! Maybe. But the great thing about Double Vision is you don't know where it's going. All of this happens by chapter 3! Bradley establishes our protagonist and his motivations:
Now, this is what you would call an impossible dilemma. Right? I agree to this, and my family’s troubles will be taken care of, but I would put my life in danger. I don’t do this, the Bakers might be bankrupt and homeless.
My two favorite things about Double Vision are Bradley's pace and tone. This book moves as fast as Dan Gutman's The Genius Files series, which is perfect for the book's target audience. The twists and turns come fast and Bradley stays one step ahead of the reader to the end. There's an evil Mona Lisa painting (it's complicated) and a whole lot of action and gadgets, which is always an unbeatable combination.
What I love is Bradley's use of first person narration to really keep things moving:
Now, I know you must be bored with this guy already—I know I was. I’ll give you a quick recap so we can get to the part where I get my first taste of junior agent life and things get interesting.
A book in which an ordinary boy suddenly becomes a world traveling agent requires no small amount of exposition, but younger readers don't care. They want action and they want humor. Bradley gives them plenty of both. By having Linc skip the boring parts, she not only picks up the pace, but further establishes character and tone. Here's my favorite chapter ending/opening combination.
But otherwise, this secret agent training was pretty dull—I mean you’re bored just reading this, right? So I’ll fast-forward to the next day: Monday morning, 7 a.m. That’s when Agent Fullerton showed up at my hotel room just as I was messing up on Henry’s latest who-is-Benjamin-Green quiz. “Time to go,” was all Fullerton said. And that’s when things got dangerous. Fast.
OKAY, SO MAYBE IT DIDN’T GET DANGEROUS immediately. First, we had to pack, then there was a really long cab ride to the airport, and after that we had to go through security—you get the idea.
And I'm going to stop there before I reveal any spoilers. If you love action, and you love funny (who doesn't), you should absolutely move F.T. Bradley's Double Vision series to the top of your list. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Double Vision:
Daryl jumped up next to me. “Yes, ma’am.” He saluted Mrs. Valdez. Daryl is the kind of guy who always acts like he’s had one bowl of Lucky Charms too many for breakfast.
“No,” I heard Farmer Johnson say. “Nobody gets near my chickens.”
IF THIS WERE A MOVIE, NOW WOULD BE the part where they play some pumped-up tune, showing me running, sweating, and learning all about Benjamin Green while guzzling energy drinks. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, this isn’t your typical action-hero story. We guzzled orange juice instead of power drinks and ordered room service, too: big stacks of pancakes with extra syrup.
Then with a sharp left, he took an alleyway, making us bounce on the cobblestones. The alley was so narrow, it was a miracle Guillaume didn’t lose his side mirrors. A sharp turn made the tires squeal, and I was pretty sure we tipped onto the two right wheels for a second there.
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.