Title: THE DOLDRUMS
Author: Nicholas Gannon
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure
TW/CW: Fatphobia (the main villain is fat and her size is brought up several times), animal death (non-descriptive/not a pet). There are several scenes that could be seen as child abuse: Archer’s mom is overprotective of him and locks him in his room for “his own safety”.
Rep: MCs friend has a prosthetic leg, broken families, anxiety.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.
Archer longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?
It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures to end up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps from a run-in with a crocodile. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).
And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.
Well, it’s not bad, anyway.
But nothing goes quite as they expect.
I love books that have dreamer main characters.
I like sensible characters well enough. When you open a book with a sensible main character, you know you’re in for a ride full of resistance. They don’t want to be swept away with the tide but forces beyond their control cause that to happen regardless.
With dreamers, though, they’re ready. Swept away or floating away (on an iceberg, mind you), they want something big and magical and unnecessary to happen. They’re ready for it. And that’s what this book and its main character, Archer Helmsley, gives us.
As you can see in the above paragraphs, everyone knew Archer would be a dreamer from the moment he was born and I think that’s a sweet way to look at it, as if dreaminess isn’t something that just happens, but something that’s always there. Archer comes from a long line of dreamers- his grandparents are world explorers and his Dad, while a being a sensible lawyer, also seems to be a bit of dreamer… even if his wife disapproves.
Archer grows up in his grandparents house a lonely boy. While his grandparents explore the world and his dad practices law, Archer’s mom is determined to make him a sensible boy. After his grandparents go missing (they’ve floated away on iceberg in Antarctica), she becomes even more obsessed with taming Archer’s “tendencies” and the boy is only allowed to leave the house to go to school.
But Archer isn’t easily tamed and is determined to find his grandparents AND have a grand adventure.
I absolutely adored the friendship between our three main characters. Archer and Oliver become friends after Archer decides he needs a sidekick. While Oliver doesn’t much care for adventure, none of Archer’s plans ever pan out and Oliver just wants a friend… so he lets Archer prattle on about these wild schemes… and slow lets the wind out of Archer’s sails. Adelaide is Archer’s new neighbor- a former ballerina who lost her leg after an accident involving a bakery truck and a lamp post. Instead of telling everyone the truth, Adelaide tells her new classmates and friends that she lost her leg after an alligator attacked her and her mother when they had to parachute into the Nile. Archer, being a dreamy kid, believes her and asks her to join him and Oliver in finding his grandparents. While they’re prepping for this adventure, the three become inseparable and all three get what they need: Oliver, friendship; Archer, adventure; Adelaide, confidants.
This book is loaded with super beautiful illustrations. I hardly ever think of how well a book is put together but I was really surprised at how heavy it was when it arrived. The paper is super thick (which makes me feel much more confident about letting my younger godkids look through it) and the whole thing just felt really sturdy. I love, love, love the art style of the book… and I’m trying to convince myself that I DON’T need a tattoo of any of the illustrations.
The only issue I had with the book was the depiction of its main villain. I’m really tired of middle grade and young adult books making their matronly villains fat just so they can constantly talk about their size. While I understand Mrs. Murkley was supposed to be a very “Miss Trunchbull” character (think “I’m big, you’re little” intimidation), it’s tiresome to see and it doesn’t resonate with me as a reader. When I was in school, the meanest teacher I ever had was also the smallest and the biggest teacher I had was the most motherly and caring.
Again, I loved this book. This was a perfect adventure and I can’t wait to get the sequel.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves adventures, friendships, and young dreamers trying to make the most out of their lives.