This delightful, pun-filled allegory tells the story of a neglected boy who is convinced that he has no worth. Inspired to become the King of Average, he undertakes a journey to a fantasy land filled with interesting characters that have strong personalities despite also being archetypes. Inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth -- but not derivative -- the book is fast-moving and funny, with a touch of sadness. It will appeal to adults as much as YA readers, reminding all that average is not easy since everyone is special in his or her own way.
Date Submitted: June 20, 2016
While on a quest to be a mediocre king in a parallel universe, an underachieving preteen discovers that there’s more to life than being average.
Eleven-year-old James lives in a dismal single parent environ with his belligerent mother. An average student with no friends, James spends much of his class time doodling an imaginary world filled with rolling hills and a road disappearing into the horizon. In a strange turn of events, James’ doodling becomes a reality not only when he enters an alternate world called The Realm of Possibility, but also goes on a quest to find the former king and discover why he left. Intended as a test for him to become the new king, James is unaware that the mission will turn into a life-changing journey.
Schwartz spins a clever tale that challenges youth to be true to themselves in his debut novel. Replete with all things average, Schwartz’ third person narrative reflects a world with limited aspirations. Featuring an unwanted preteen from a broken home, Schwartz takes a heavy familial issue and transforms it into an adventure story with thought-provoking concepts. While not all young readers will relate to James’ feelings of parental rejection, they will certainly understand the pretense used by youth to gain societal acceptance.
Key to Schwartz’ transformable approach is a surreal surrounding that combines interesting characters with comedic scenes and engaging dialogue—a perfect cushion used to set the stage for James. He is placed in uncomfortable situations that require him to face his fears. Character examples include a talking “scape” goat named Mayor Culpa, an optimist named Roget and his pessimistic sidekick Kiljoy—to name a few. Also key is how Schwartz punctuates his mediocre-laced text with delightful pencil drawings from illustrator Nicole Armitage. Consistently fluid from beginning to end, Schwartz’ storyline includes plenty of unexpected scene changes with cliffhanging chapter closures.
KING OF AVERAGE is a unique fantasy with a powerfully encouraging message for youth.
A supposedly average boy realizes that he’s not so mediocre after all in this debut middle-grade novel.
James thinks he’s a typical 11-year-old, which suits him just fine. His father is gone, his mother hates him (she commonly wishes he was never born while on the phone with her friends), and he has no siblings. James, who earns C’s in school, looks rather ordinary (he certainly isn’t handsome). Instead of fighting it, he embraces his mediocrity, declaring himself the best average guy the planet has ever seen. One day in a garden, he meets Mayor Culpa, a talking goat. Following the animal, James finds himself suddenly transported to another world. The chatty creature reveals that he’s a Scapegoat (“As long as I’m to blame, no one else can be burdened. It’s what I was bred for”). He tells James that he can become the Kingdom of Average’s new ruler. But to claim the crown, the boy must first complete a mission—find the old king and discover why he abdicated the throne. Mayor Culpa, professional optimist Monsieur William Roget, and Roget’s pint-sized pessimist, Kiljoy, join James on his journey. They travel from Disappointment Bay to Serenity Spa to the Unattainable Mountains, and as their quest evolves, James begins to learn that maybe he’s not quite so mundane. When they reach the part of the kingdom dubbed Epiphany, James finally grasps who he is—someone extraordinary. While James initially believes that he’s mediocre, Schwartz’s novel assuredly is not. This is a volume that kids and parents can read together because it works on two levels—young ones should love the adventure-packed plot and hilarious characters, and grown-ups should chuckle at the wordplay embedded in every page. Schwartz’s characters are more than clever—they’re ingenious. Mayor Culpa constantly apologizes, and Kiljoy represents that little voice inside people’s heads that attempts to invalidate their intentions. These living, breathing allusions effectively push the narrative forward (although Armitage’s sketchlike illustrations fail to enhance the story—such fanciful places and characters should be left to the imagination). Schwartz’s nicely succinct writing style places the focus on the striking worlds he creates. The book delivers an important lesson—be your own hero. With this debut, the author should soon be a hero to readers everywhere.
A skilled and witty tale about a boy who would be king that should appeal to children and adults.