Top critical review
TOO MUCH WHIMSY
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2019
For grades 3-7.
Campbell wrote and illustrated this tale about a lonely young boy named August DuPont who lives alone with his rather unusual aunt Hydrangea. August has a chemical problem that renders the scent of his skin irresistible to butterflies. Aunt Hydrangea has a phobia against them so August has spent his entire life barricaded inside Aunt Hydrangea’s once elegant but now falling down mansion. When somehow, another Aunt, Orchid Malveau, finds out about him, August receives an invitation to tea. He’s excited –he has no friends, he’s never been outside his auntie’s house, and he didn’t know he had any other living relatives. Aunt Orchid turns out to be something else –rich instead of poor, avidly greedy (it takes a while for poor August to realize this about her), but good at concealing her real motives and a past master at conning poor little boys into doing her work for her. August wants nothing more than to please her –if he does, her children, his newly found cousins, will be his friends and he’ll go to their school with them. All he has to do is find and hand over a rare and precious jewel that belonged to his long dead great-uncle Orfeo, who had a traveling magic act with, as its culmination, a Dance of the Dead, with Orfeo the corpses’ dance master.
Enter a complication. Unwittingly, on his way to tea at aunt Orchid’s mansion, August passes up and picks up –animates—a zombie of his own. Claudette can’t talk. Her clothes are a mess and her hair straggles, her complexion is chalky white and her head hangs limp to one side, but she makes it clear that August is her man, her friend, and she won’t go away. So August has two tasks to accomplish: find great-uncle Orfeo’s stone for newfound aunt Orchid and find a necromancer to send Claudette back to her grave.
So far, so good. What isn’t good is the fey, almost cutesy poo tone of the writing. I find it hard to believe that a sixth or seventh-grade child (it's marketed to grades 3-7) would find it appealing. I certainly didn’t. Also, the plot is thin, even for a book that is marketed as the first, to be continued, adventure in the series, “Zombie Problems.”
Some but not all of the illustrations were included in the review copy so I don’t know if the ones I saw were the final drawings or preliminary sketches. The ones I saw failed to capture the potential for weirdness of the story.