Take one slacker, one troublemaker, and some bottle rockets and mix them with a whole world of drolling, nasty, furry, black-blooded goblins and what do you get? A book that middle school boys will adore. The cover alone ensures that they will pick this title up, but they won't be disappointed once they start reading, because things happen quickly. Sam Hill (most students won't get this reference, so it's clever rather than annoying) makes a lot of poor choices that get him in trouble with the sheriff in his small town. One lands him in jail for stealing fireworks. While locked up, he meets the sheriff's son, P.J., who is not known for his wisdom or good behavior. When the two of them investigate a border alarm, hoping to get some goods that thieves are trying to smuggle between the U.S. and Canada, they get embroiled in a battle to keep the goblins from straying from their underground home.
The writing has many laugh out loud moments, which I always appreciate. This was great (page 84): "For the first time, [Sam] wondered exactly how he'd gotten himself into such a mess. A bunch of bad decisions, he decided, one after the other. He shook his head. I deserve to be in trouble. And he was not in just in a little trouble. He was alone in a goblin cell, deep underground, waiting to be thrown in some sort of arena, which was apparently a fate worse than being eaten. But there was nothing he could do at the moment, so he stretched out to try to relax. "
Attention, Newbery Committee: Introspective navel-gazing as it should be done. Sam does develop from a slacker and Learns Important Lessons, but in between we have this (page 69):
"Just then, Whitey sank his sword into [the goblin's ] fleshy underbelly to draw its attention. "Keep going!" he yelled to them. His weapon cut a long gash in the jiggly creature, but the wound closed itself like sliced Jell-O, and Whitey's sword energed from the caustic flesh melted to a stump. He tossed it down, them leapt across the sinkhole to follow them. The creature reared, surged forward, and caught him midair. Whitey stuck to its slime-covered underside like a fly on a fly strip."
This is a must buy for middle schools. It has an excellent balance between moral lessons and spewing goblin mucus. A bildungsroman with multi-colored bug blood. What more could we want?