Return to Augie Hobble

It's A Book by Lane Smith is one of my all-time favorite picture books.  Yes, I like them subversive, quirky, and a little bit dark (see also I'd Really Like to Eat A Child, I Want My Hat Back, and Bear Despair for other examples).  Plus, Smith also collaborated with Jon Sciescka on The Stinky Cheese Man: and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which is another favorite.  There's a long story behind The Stinky Cheese Man and me, but that's for another time.

Anyway, when I saw Smith had a chapter book out, I requested it right away.

And then I finished it.  And I still have no idea what I read.  Let's try to work this one out:

Augie Hobble's dad owns Fairy Tale Place, a fairy-tale themed amusement park in the middle of nowhere, Kansas.  The description of it made me think of the park at the end of the movie Hanna.   Augie's kind of a jack-of-all-trades, sweeping up trash, making sure the characters stay in character, and painting a field of toadstools (do toadstools grow in fields?  Must look that up).  Unfortunately, Augie failed Creative Arts and has to do a makeup project.  He labels a journal "Return to Augie Hobble" and starts brainstorming.

Okay, first alarm bell: what is creative arts and how does one fail it without noticing?  The teacher seems like a real piece of work anyway, so he should have helped Augie instead of just being like, "Tee hee, you failed, here's some more work that I will hate anyway!"  It seems that "creative arts" is kind of like creative writing, but not.  See what I mean?  I'm so confused.

In the meantime, Augie and his best friend Britt build a treehouse hideout (gravity happens) and it's strongly implied that Britt is gay, but never discussed.  I don't like this tiptoeing around matters.  Plus, it was pretty clichéd.  Britt likes dolls and dress up and drama and he's different, ergo, gay (unless I'm totally reading this wrong).  For example, Augie criticizes Britt for making Fort Ninja too "girlie" with knick-knacks, and when Britt tells him he doesn't like that word, it's obviously hit home.  But Augie's also kind of a jerk, so.

As he tries to come up with ideas for his project (many of which I found completely valid, but he tossed them out, so whatever), strange things start happening in Augie's notebook.  Things he didn't write, critters he never drew.  No matter where he hides the notebook, it's always tampered with.

He enlists the aid of Claire, who runs a food stand, the theme park's psychic Oala, and the psychic's mysterious daughter, Nicoletta, to figure out a) what he should do for the project and b) who's been writing in his notebook.

Warning: after the jump there are spoilers aplenty.  So stop here and continue to wonder why I disliked this novel, or keep reading and spoil it all (do it do it do it!)!

Britt died on his family's trip to Yellowstone.  He went into anaphylactic shock after eating something contaminated with peanuts.  Augie's convinced it was the cookie that he snuck in Britt's backpack before leaving, and is guilt-stricken over having killed his best friend.  Does he tell anyone?  No.

AND THEN this weird thing comes out of far left field that Nicoletta is actually Nick, Oala's son, in disguise as a woman, and he's wanted by the police.  Augie chases him in a miniature car meant for racing at the park.  Oh, and Nick/Nicoletta is also a werewolf.

Mean-meanwhile it turns out that Britt actually didn't eat Augie's cookie, but instead died of cross-contamination?  How do we know this?  Well, it's because Britt's been the one writing in Augie's diary ... from beyond the grave.  I'm sorry, this book that seemed to be about summer angst suddenly turned into a really trippy conglomeration of death, deserts, cross-dressing werewolves, and ghosts.  Britt continues to haunt Augie and together they catch a thief in a wolf suit (note: this is not Nicoletta.  She presumably returned to Transylvania, as Smith gave her a thick accent).

The end.

I ... seriously, how I am I supposed to review this?  It's just a bunch of crazy ideas thrown together and barely held together by Smith's charming and signature illustrations.


  1. That sounds like such a hot mess.

    1. I really couldn't believe it. I mean, this was the guy who gave me Madam President and It's a Book ...
      The cross-dressing (trans*?) werewolf thing was the real kicker for me.

    2. That would give me pause, too.


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