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Review: Alligators Overhead by C. Lee McKenzie

Monday, March 18, 2013
3 Stars: A Good Read
Paperback: 210 Pages
Publication: July 1, 2012 by Outskirts Press

Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town’s bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he’s up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn’t the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion, materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete’s guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find his aunt and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.

When Pete wishes for something exciting to replace the boredome of life in Hadleytown, he didn't expect a haunted mansion to pop up next door over night. Nor does he expect to get entangled in a century-long conflict between witches and developers who seek to urbanize the swamp where the witches' gator friends live. It's hard to stay away, however, when you're a natural trouble maker and descended from the original coven of witches in Hadleytown.

Pete is the resident prankster who just can't seem to bring his trouble-making tendencies under control, being a blossoming warlock who can't stop wishing for the wrong things. He is the kind of modern boy hero that I love to read about--the little rogue with an angel and a devil both whispering in his ear and fighting for control. Pete acts like he knows what he's doing even when he's actually insecure and could use some advice. Oftentimes, his advisor turns out to be his nerdy friend Weasel, a scaredy-cat and unwilling participant in many of Pete's crazy schemes. Though his complaints can be overthetop, I can't help but like Weasel, especially as he's always there when Pete needs him most.

It takes several chapters for the exposition to unfold. I'm not a believer of info dumping, but it would have been helpful to get a better feel for his situation earlier on in the book since that's the time we spend getting to know Pete's character. As it is, the story is slow to start, and the characters seem rather flat at first. I recommend spending the time organizing the information in your mind as it's presented and perhaps guessing at what'll happen next. The plot gets better though once the central conflict of the novel is revealed and the action gets moving.

Alligators Overhead puts a new twist on the familiar theme of the young adolescent coming into his magical powers by introducing alligators and a witchy ancestor returning to protect the land she loves. What I love about this story is how it brings together the idea of kinship and environmental protection in a fantastical story that middle-grade readers can enjoy without feeling as though the author is trying to preach to them. The text doesn't try to dictate the necessity of protecting wetlands. No, Pete is trying to protect the home and lives of his alligator friends. If readers feel anything for the environment after reading this book, they can research the facts on their own. Which I feel is a good thing. This is a middle-grade fantasy at heart, and I love when a book can portray an issue without being about the issue. E.g. the greater plot isn't about the issue but about character growth and such.

Magic, friendship, and family come together in this story about a young boy's journey to realizing his heritage. This story is about living in harmony with nature and looking at the good within people (or at least trying to change their intentions if discussion is not possible). It is about finding the good within yourself and learning not to judge character based off appearances, or Pete really would have run when he first meets the alligators. I can't blame him. Their teeth really are frightening!

I recommend this book to middle-grade fantasy lovers.

A copy was provided by C. Lee McKenzie for review.

2 comments on "Review: Alligators Overhead by C. Lee McKenzie"
  1. Sounds like an awesome book. I love fantasies and the environmental aspects make it unique. Thanks for sharing about it and for spotlighting a middle grade book.

    1. I also love fantasies, and middle-grade fantasies will always be a favorite of mine. I hope that you enjoy this one if you pick it up!


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