Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Review of The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Ames by Kelly Easton

This book first caught my attention because of its title, which really rolls off the tongue. The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Ames also has a villain worthy of Roald Dahl, and Mal happens to be our title character's father. For most of the book, her mother is not much better when it comes to parenting.

Ten-year-old Liberty Ames, who was named after a can of vegetables, plays the Cinderella role as the book begins:

Once upon a time like now, and in a place like here, there existed a crooked house. The house at 33 Gooch Street was decrepit beyond description. If it could walk, it would limp. If it could talk, it would stutter. If it could smile, it would have rotting teeth. You get the picture...
Libby Ames was small with two long dark braids and pale skin. She owned only one dress, a gray one, with big pockets to hold her cooking utensils and cleaning supplies.
Although she was ten, she was not in any grade, like you might be. Her parents had never allowed her to go to school. They told the school officials that she would be "homeschooled." Usually, that's a fine thing. For Libby, though, it meant that she was locked up all day, waiting on her parents hand and foot, dodging their insults like a beleaguered catcher.
Libby's mother Sal is obese, consuming an astonishing quantity of food that Libby fries up for her each day, as well as the ominous buttergoo pudding Libby's father feeds his wife. Tall, thin Mal—who only bathes in months that have a Z in them—sells fake insurance to people when he's not down in his basement lab concocting miracle potions.

As Libby eventually discovers, Mal really is the "friggin' genius" he calls himself. When she finally ventures to explore his lab, she discovers magic potions and imprisoned animals Mal has transformed in various ways, like a chicken with human feet. Libby has just tried a cream that allows her to talk to animals when she is caught by her father and must use one of the potions to take flight—literally.

Loving the freedom implied by her name, Liberty sets off on a series of adventures while trying to evade her father and the people drawn by the reward he offers for getting her back. The goal she sets for herself is a fancy private school, which she thinks will welcome her with open arms. Like many of Libby's assumptions, this isn't quite the case.

I like Easton's premise, and Mal makes for a delightfully grotesque villain, along with his sidekick, a skunk. Other memorable characters include a talking pigeon (who considers bird droppings his art form) and a group of circus performers. Mistaken for the new lion tamer, Liberty is inside the cage telling the volatile beast a story just when the cream that lets her talk to animals wears off.

The author is clearly setting us up for a sequel to these whimsical adventures in the final pages, so look for more Liberty Ames to come.

A subplot involving Liberty's mother and the worm scientist across the street seems a little thin and the author has a tendency to make distracting editorial remarks, but the humor and the storytelling in The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Ames mostly work. The book is a fun read for 7- to 9-year-olds, especially because of its likable heroine, bright-eyed and hopeful despite her dastardly father and her dour upbringing.

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