When his father is charged with embezzlement, 12-year-old Gil Goodson becomes an outcast at school and his family sinks under a black cloud that doesn't lift, not even after his dad is acquitted. From this somber premise, first-time novelist Feldman concocts an outlandish method by which Gil will come out on top again--and get enough cash so his family can move. But winning the Gollywhopper Games, a contest sponsored by the toy company that fired his father, means besting 25,000 entrants in a series of brainteasers. Gil makes it to the final 10, where two teams compete against each other. His teammates are as obnoxious as the golden ticket holders on Charlie Bucket's famous tour, though not as imaginatively drawn, and their bickering nearly drains the fun from the whacked-out challenges they face. Indeed, the appeal of the book lies in the puzzles, which involve unscrambling clues hidden in rhyming verses and then tackling various stunts (obstacle courses, mazes, scavenger hunts) that get increasingly difficult as the field is winnowed. As the outcome of this intricate, potentially interactive story is never in doubt, many kids will want to put the story on pause to try to work out each answer. Final illustrations not seen by PW . Ages 10-14. (Feb.)[Page 57]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-8-- Gil is one of 5000 kids competing for fame and prizes in a fantastic event sponsored by the Golly Toy and Game Company. By solving a series of word games and puzzles, and passing physical challenges, he reaches the finals, where he must outshine four others, including an ex-classmate who may be cheating. Gil has further motivation to win--his father was wrongly accused of embezzling from the company, a personal stake that provides added interest. The challenges themselves are fun: the wordplay and codes required to solve them are tricky, but not impossible, and it's interesting to see the kids' thought processes. Part of the competition involves teaming up, and Gil shows leadership skills and learns to see his partners' hidden strengths. Adequate black-and-white drawings appear throughout. With occasionally stiff dialogue and fairly superficial supporting characters, the process of the Games is the main draw. Several plot contrivances, including the fact that the fathers of two of the finalists were rival Golly Toys employees, make things a bit less suspenseful. Despite these flaws, the appealing premise of a competition within a toy company headquarters recalls Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Knopf, 1964), and the puzzle solving may appeal to fans of Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society (Little, Brown, 2007) or Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, 2004), making Feldman's book a workable, though less satisfying, follow-up to those titles.--Steven Engelfried, Multnomah County Library, OR[Page 198]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.