Book Review: Janitors – Tyler Whitesides

I mentioned recently meeting published author Tyler Whitesides. This is his book. It took awhile to get to it (we were reading The Hobbit first), but I finally read it to my kids (at least the one who didn’t get impatient and read it already). Now I’m ready to review it.

This is what they call a mid-grade children’s book, aimed at the 8-12 year old age group, and that seems fairly apt. My six and eight year olds seemed to enjoy it most.

The book centers on Spencer, the new kid in town who is trying to fit in at a new school. By accident he gets some special soap in his eyes that allows him to see magical creatures infesting his school. But no one else can see them, so he quickly must decide whether to warn the other kids or keep quiet about it. And why is it the janitors can also see them–and don’t seem happy that he can?” As Spencer digs deeper things get quickly out of control.

I’ll admit that after meeting Tyler Whitesides and having be so kind to me and my kids I was nervous that I might not like the book. I’m glad (and relieved) to say it’s a good book. It’s very tightly written–there is very little throw-away information or action. The book starts no sooner than it needs, moves you quickly through, and ends precisely where it needs to end.

There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, some foreseeable and some not. Being an adult, an experienced reader, and a writer I picked up on some clues pretty quickly. For example one item in the story I knew would be used the moment it was mentioned. That was not necessarily a weakness, since I spent the rest of the story wondering “Is he going to use it now?!” Sometimes revealing something early can help build the suspense.

But there were still some I didn’t see coming, too. In fact, at the risk of giving something away, I initially thought the first couple chapters of the book were unnecessary until late in the book when you suddenly realize why they were important. In fact, in the entire book there was only one point that felt a bit forced because it hadn’t been properly set up. Either that or I missed the setup. No matter, really. In real life it would only have made sense for people to keep it secret and only reveal when necessary.

Whitesides made an interesting–and welcome–choice in this book, too. In many kids books the kids either have no parents or their parents are completely oblivious so as not to get in the way of the kids being heroic. Not so in this one. While Spencer’s mom at first seems like an oblivious type, she eventually gets let in on what’s going on, and she handles it…well, like a parent. And yet the kids still manage to be involved and save the day–and Spencer gains new respect for his mother.

One standing point of curiosity for me, though. The story takes place in the small town of Welcher, Idaho, which is revealed to be just off the freeway between Boise and Pocatello. I know that stretch of freeway pretty well, so now I’m curious whether Whitesides had a particular town in mind. The only other clue (except a few landmark names which I’m not SO obsessed that I’m going to go look up) is a Best Western by the freeway. While I know the road, I admit I do NOT have all the Best Westerns memorized. If I had to make a guess I’d suspect Burley.

As I mentioned before, it was mainly my six year old son Richard I read the book to; the other two having already read it. Both of them drifted back in to listen as the story progressed. Richard really got into it. I could see him getting anxious when things got tense. He regularly put pressure on me to read some more whenever there was free time. And I’ll admit to pressuring him a few times, too. I wanted to know how it ended, too! I think that’s about as good a recommendation as any I could give.

It’s not a long book, or at least it flows quickly. I honestly don’t remember how many pages it was. We read it in a little less than a week, reading mostly around bedtimes for an hour or so. It can get intense, as I said, though I’d place the intensity (and the age range) just a little lower than Fablehaven, though it may have greater impact because the settings seem more real and relevant (it mostly takes place in an elementary school). Whitesides doesn’t hold back. The bad guys are vicious, and with a few exceptions not prone to Villain Stupidity Disorder.

There is one point in the book I must disagree with, however. The magical creatures Spencer can see, called toxicants, are supposedly the reason why kids sometimes have trouble concentrating or staying away in school. Supposedly they mostly prefer younger kids, whose brainwaves are tastiest, while largely ignoring them as they grow older to the point you’ll never find toxicants at high schools.

There I must disagree. Toxicants must be the reason I start getting sleepy and having difficulty focusing after lunch at work each day. Somebody hand me some soap and a T12 broom.

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