Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy

M. G. Leonard
For ages 9 to 12
Scholastic, 2016   ISBN: 978-0545853460

Five years ago Darkus’ mother died, and for a few years his dad, Dr. Bartholomew Cuttle, really was not present. He retreated into his grief leaving Darkus on the outside. The boy did what he could to help his father and as a result he too retreated from the world somewhat. How could anyone else understand what Darkus was going through?

For the last year things have been a lot better. Dr. Cuttle came out of his haze of grief and he and Darkus have been spending quality time together and have become very close. Then one day Dr. Cuttle goes to work at the Natural History Museum as normal. He goes to the collection vaults, locking himself in a room where a large number of beetle specimens are stored. Then he disappears. No one can explain how Dr. Cuttle was able to vanish from a locked room, but he did, and now Darkus is friendless and parentless.

For three miserable weeks Darkus lives in a foster home. Thankfully, his uncle Max comes back to England as soon as he finds out about his brother’s disappearance, and Darkus goes to live with him. Uncle Max promises Darkus that he will not give up looking for his brother. They both know that Dr. Cuttle would never abandon his son.

Darkus starts going to a new school and he very quickly becomes friends with a geek called Bertolt, and a tough girl called Virginia. They are interested in Darkus’ story and sympathetic of his plight. So much so in fact that they agree to help Darkus find out where his father is.

After school on that first day Darkus witnesses a fight between two brothers who are Uncle Max’s neighbors. While they are fighting, a very large beetle crawls out of one the men’s trouser legs. It makes a beeline for Darkus and before the boy knows what is what it makes itself comfortable on Darkus’ shoulder. The strange thing is that the insect, which really is very large indeed, seems to like Darkus, and when a bully from school attacks Darkus, the beetle attacks the bully. It is the most extraordinary thing! After this encounter it is clear that the beetle, Baxter, wants to stay with Darkus.

Being befriended by a large beetle that understands human speech is certainly strange, but things get lot stranger. Darkus finds out that a veritable city of intelligent beetles is living in the building that the two squabbling brothers own. How they got there he has no idea, but he soon finds out that a woman called Lucretia Cutter is looking for the beetles and she turns up at the brother’s house and pays them for the privilege of killing and then removing the beetles. Darkus cannot bear the thought of all those beetles being killed by the horrible woman, and so he and his friends decide to do what they can to save the insects.

Things get even more complicated when Darkus finds out that Lucretia Cutter used to know his father, and that they worked together on something called the Fabre Project some years ago, before Darkus was born. Darkus learns that Lucretia Cutter is obsessed with beetles and that she is the one who technically owns the beetle filled vault in the Natural History Museum; the one that Dr. Cuttle was in when he disappeared.  Could Lucretia Cutter be behind Dr. Cuttle’s disappearance, and if so why and where is the man?

This is a deliciously unusual novel that combines a great story with fantasy and science to give readers a tale that is utterly captivating. Colorful characters - including several villains, unexpected heroes and wonderful beetles - make this book a must read for anyone who likes mysteries, adventures, and tales that are full of unexpected plot twists.