Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Bk. 1. illus. by author. 304p. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6050-5; ebook $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6358-2.
Gr 3–8—Timmy Failure's new surname is completely apt. His original family name was "Fayleure," he explains, "but somebody changed it." And that bit of shallow self-assessment is just about the only accurate thing Timmy relates about himself for the rest of this highly illustrated comic novel as he unreliably narrates a boastful "historical record" of his adventures as the self-described founder, president, and CEO of the best detective agency in town, probably the state, perhaps the nation, Total Failure, Inc. Total is actually the name of Timmy's partner, a 1500-pound polar bear whose main talent seems to be eating trash. He's also "assisted," at times, by a sheepish and studious sidekick, Rollo Tookus, who often picks up on clues that soar completely past Timmy's selective attention as he, instead, focuses on demeaning Rollo for his supposed incompetence at every turn. And, of course, every master Investigator needs an evil nemesis, and Timmy's is Corrina Corrina, who looks like she might have been collaboratively created by Charles Schulz and Edward Gorey. While the book is not quite a graphic novel, Pastis, creator of the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine, peppers nearly every page of this comic romp with at least one intentionally amateurish black-and-white illustration, enhancing the laughs along the way as Timmy misses even the most obvious clues in Clouseauesque fashion. Middle grade readers will appreciate all the silly sleuthing and absurd details, and older readers-including parents who come along for the ride-will find a satisfying layer of more sophisticated humor, too.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
The appealing format, with plentiful illustrations and quirky jokes, will draw in readers and keep them engaged. Timmy’s polar bear sidekick earns lots of laughs with unprofessional behavior such as chomping on garbage from a client’s trashcans and crushing furniture. Ample humor lightens the story, which also tackles some serious subject matter, including lack of parental involvement, struggles with schoolwork, and not fitting in socially. Kids will enjoy being in the know as Timmy bumbles along. For example, when Timmy is hired to find out who stole his friend’s Halloween candy, he overlooks the friend’s little brother whose face is smeared with chocolate. Could be used in a classroom unit on narrative style, since Timmy is a good example of an unreliable narrator. For instance, the audience is prompted to look more closely to determine the truth when Timmy sits by himself at lunch because “it is the only way I can ensure that the other kids don’t see my work and commit an act of industrial espionage.”

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