After a series of read-for-myself days, today I felt honor-bound to pick up the next in my pile of review requests, and opened up Toonopolis: Gemini, by Jeremy Rodden. It’s labeled as young adult/fantasy, so theoretically aligns with a lot of what I’ve been reading. I wasn’t too sure about it from the author’s blurb, since I’m not a huge cartoon fan:
Toonopolis is a cartoon city that is home to the thoughts and ideas of all sentient beings in the universe. As the center of the Tooniverse, it acts as an other-worldly rest stop for these creations.
Gemini is a teenage human boy who is thrust into Toonopolis through his father’s scientific research program. He loses part of himself in the process and immediately begins a quest to regain his lost memories with the help of his Tooniverse guide named Jimbob the Talking Eggplant.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on, since I had thoroughly enjoyed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit“. I’m not sure if it’s the head cold I’ve been fighting that made the humor seem forced, but I really had to push myself to continue after the first few chapters. Random references to Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and X-Files in the first 21 pages didn’t help orient me either. Some of the punnery was so ridiculous I wondered for a while whether the satire was intentional or the joke was on me.
However, I was on a mission to reduce my to-read pile. Interestingly, at about the 1/3 mark, I settled in, and the rest of the story flowed pretty smoothly from the premise. Here was an author who had personified sentient beings’ creative thoughts and given them an environment in which they could explore themselves. Visiting Adventure Realm, the Black Light District, Supercity, Animetown, Camenot, and a series of other cartoon genre subsections of Toonopolis in a process dually framed as a quest to reverse the destruction being visited upon all of Toonopolis and regaining the main character’s memories was curiously engaging–despite the ongoing punnery:
“Let’s see if we can fight fire with fire,” the superheroine said and hurled balls of fire at the wraith drake. The fireballs landed several yards away from Phantasm.
“I guess Miss Fire’s not a misnomer,” said Jimbob. Miss Fire whirled on the eggplant with fire literally in her eyes. “Sorry, my mistake. I misspoke. I was misadvised by my brain.”
“Are you quite finished?” shouted Gemini at his Toonopolis guide.
“Yes,” Jimbob said sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I’ve been waiting since Supercity to say those things.” He paused for a second. “I hope she doesn’t mistrust me.”
The story is at its best in its dialogue, and evolves into a much deeper exploration of the quest theme than I would have expected from its beginning. The frame story of an Agency bent on eliminating its enemies, and their descent into madness based on the loss of their creativity puts a very adult construction on the subtle themes woven through the tale. The absolute requirement for a balanced self is hinted at through the use of the names Mimic and Gemini, and ultimately leaves the reader with a simple introduction to the archetypes that war within individuals.
Thematically, this is more adult than many young adult books I’ve read, though the language and framework is silly enough that I still don’t know how seriously to take it. I can see there is an opening for follow-on stories; indeed, the author’s blog recently discussed his progress on two additional books in this universe. However, I’m not sure the characters grabbed me sufficiently that I would be motivated to read them. On the other hand, for young comic and cartoon fans whose parents despair of them reading long-form books with many more words than pictures, I see this as a perfect cross-over vehicle to introduce them to a world involving more internal imagination and world-building than they normally get from graphic entertainment.
Given that this appears to be Rodden’s first novel, though, I do have to congratulate him on joining the ranks of published authors, and having taken the process seriously enough that there were minimal editorial mistakes to distract the reader. I suspect that some of the initial weaknesses in the book could both be argued as representing the main character’s amnesia at that point, as well as Rodden’s own learning curve. He is very active on Twitter @toonopolis, so maybe someday he’ll answer the question of whether or how he would revise his work again…
Meantime, the Kindle edition is on sale for $.99, a price point that makes it easy for any reader looking for some light diversion with a sub-helping of deep meaning to take the plunge on a new author’s work.