Author: Lee Bacon
Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
Publisher: Delacorte Press
“Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth.” As far as first lines go maybe it’s not “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist” or “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it” or “Far out in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun” which is so awesome it manages to start two of my favorite novels. But as first lines go it’s good, good enough to keep me reading even after the plot summary on the back cover left me cold.
Joshua Dread is a sixth grader which is not a remarkable fact. His parents are super villains, which is a quite remarkable fact. At certain times of my childhood I was convinced my parents were super villains, but upon reflection I don’t recall any of Mom’s plotted plants looking at me like I was fertilizer, there were never any zombies chained in the basement and Dad’s workshop was for repairing lawn mowers and recovering speaker cabinets, not reverse engineering nanotechnology. Joshua’s parents, The Dread Duo to you and me, consider it their mission in life to topple the status quo, to crash the system, to give civilization the three finger salute (you know- CTRL+ALT+DEL) and start it all over, this time with them in charge. The super villain lifestyle can be hard on a kid. The Dreads are constantly on the move with Joshua having to adapt to each new environment which is hard enough without having to remember your new name at the same time. Over the last several years however things have settled down somewhat and the Dreads have managed to live undetected in Sheepsdale in upstate New York. Joshua’s Mom is a professor at the local University and his dad is a stay at home inventor, which I have decided is what I want to be when I grow up. Joshua is attending Sheepsdale Middle School and nobody, not even Joshua’s best friend Milton suspects the truth, even after the flood the earth plan goes south.
Of course is wouldn’t be much of a story if there were not a few complications. Complication number one is a bit obvious to anyone who remembers Mendel and his peas. Despite the fact that both of his parents have super powers when pencils start exploding in his hands, he starts leaving scorched handprints and footprints and school bullies start hurling themselves away from him Joshua is left perplexed. I guess Mendel and his peas aren’t discussed until seventh grade in Sheepsdale. The second complication is that super villains are disappearing, which might sound like good news unless both your parents are super villains. The third complication is a girl. The girl’s name is Sophie. She’s new in town and Joshua thinks she might have a secret, possibly a secret similar to his. Stir all of this together with an uber super villain, a vain and possibly corrupt super hero, three retired hover scooters and some smoke monsters and you’ve got a rousing tale.
I have to admit that the back cover synopsis did not grab me, but “Our class got out of sixth period early the day my parents tried to flood the earth” did. I could see how a kid with super villain parents could have some unique problems, but how do you tell a young adult story about this kid without either totally white washing the parents avocation or just making them complete caricatures neither of which I found appealing or interesting. But after that first line, I couldn’t resist giving the book a try and I’m glad I did. I can’t say I’m completely happy with how the parents villainy is treated but I quickly realized is that the book is about Joshua and not his parents, you would have thought I would have figured that out just by looking at the cover but sometimes it takes a minute or sixty for a concept to penetrate. And ultimately the story is more about the choice than what you choose. It’s about Joshua coming to terms with the fact that he does have a choice and exactly what that means. Appropriately for a story about super heroes and super villains there are exploding hidden lairs and a superpower verses super technology showdown to wrap things up. Well, not wrap things up too tightly, hopefully we will get to read many more of Joshua’s adventures over the next several years.