The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!
Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I’m no huge lover of beetles or insects, but I was initially interested in M.G. Leonard’s debut because I heard it was reminiscent of the kind of writing in another book I loved as a kid but can’t remember now (has snow and a red machine on the front? anyone?) Anyway, I went into Beetle Boy with high expectations, and almost all of them were met.
Starting with what I liked, I loved the factoids on beetles! M.G. clearly loves beetles, and she worked them into the novel without making it seem unnatural. There weren’t any info-dumps, and I came to appreciate beetles over the course of the story. I went it a bit skeptical of how well that element would be handled, but I was pleasantly surprised. I grew up on movies like Antz, The Ant Bully, and A Bug’s Life, and this book brought many great memories back for me.
Along that same vein, the writing and plot were spot-on. The writing captured the feel that I was looking for. Like some of the other books I’ve reviewed lately, it had this feel of older middle-grade fiction, books that aren’t narrated in such a whimsical way. I appreciated that, and I loved getting to know the characters. Each person was nuanced, and characters were distinctive.
What I disliked had to do with writing though, as much as I loved both of the execution of this story. I can’t truly see myself recommending this story to many kids in its target audience. It’s just too out-there, I guess. It’s a fun story, but enthusiasm for reading about bugs (no matter how cool they are) doesn’t transfer easily. I’d still recommend this to lower middle-grade readers.
Overall, not a bad read by any means. I was entertained, and I enjoyed learning about beetles. However, for the most part, I probably won’t be recommending this one. 3 stars.