FALCON QUINN AND THE CRIMSON VAPOR, by Jennifer Finney Boylan, 2011, HarperCollins Children’s Books, $16.99, 384 pages.
When we first meet Falcon Quinn, the hero of Jennifer Finney Boylan’s new book “Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor,” he’s enjoying the last few days of summer at an island amusement park. But soon he’s charged at by a talking rhino, attacked by a giant robot (controlled by his friend Pearl, who is less than two feet tall and can fly), and travels through the Unhaunted House with his friends (who are all monsters). And that’s just the first chapter.
The ongoing series follows Falcon, a 13-year-old boy who has always felt like an outsider. In the previous book, he was told that he was a monster and taken to the Academy for Monsters, a school with the intent of teaching other supposedly imaginary creatures how to live in the human world without arousing suspicions. Falcon eventually found out that he was an angel — not exactly a monster, but not a human either. But despite being at a school filled with others of his kind, Falcon doesn’t feel like he fits in. He looks human, except for his large, feathered wings and unusual eyes — one is blue and has the power to heal people, the other is black and can shoot fireballs. And to make matters worse, his parents are in charge of two warring groups: his father is the headmaster of the Academy for Monsters, while his mother is the queen of the guardians, a group of humans devoted to killing monsters. The second book in the series deals with Falcon’s quest to figure out where he belongs. He tries to live in both the monster and guardian worlds, but as tensions rise between the two groups, his friends turn to enemies as they begin to doubt his loyalty to them.
Despite the far-fetched premise, the story is surprisingly reminiscent of the countless children’s books that deal with normal middle school dynamics. Many of the young monsters that Falcon interacts with will remind young readers of their own classmates (a snobby group of vampires is the Academy for Monsters’ clique of mean girls). The author was inspired to write the series after a discussion with her sons about what school would be like if everyone were a different type of monster, and she’s well aware of how middle school students act.
The story’s many characters — which range from zombies and vampires to lesser-known were-creatures and dryads — are sometimes difficult to keep track of and the dialogue seems forced at times, but Falcon and his friends have distinct and entertaining personalities. The overarching plot contains enough funny anecdotes and quirky details to keep readers laughing. Although the Falcon Quinn series may not appeal to those looking for something serious, it’s the perfect read for middle school students interested in adventure, humor and an entertaining book for the beach or a rainy summer day.
Charlotte Zelz, 14, of Bangor, will be a freshman at John Bapst Memorial High School in the fall.