I’ve been a fan of David Pratt’s work since his Lammy-winning Bob the Book several years ago, and I’ve even been fortunate enough to work with him on a couple of projects. I always look forward to something new from him, and this YA thriller (with no musical pretensions whatever) was no exception. And as usual with Pratt, the follow through was more than worthwhile.
Todd Sweeney, ex-con high school student, takes his duties as ally and protector seriously, trying to keep his best friend, Toby, out of a gay conversion camp threatened by evil guidance counselor Ashford Squeers. Along with their accomplice, Nellie Lovett, they eliminate Squeers, serving him up in bake-sale empanadas. Ditto another bully who tries to make their lives miserable. This pattern of disappearances doesn’t go unnoticed by the local constabulary, who race to discover who’s behind the murders while Todd and Nellie rescue Toby from the camp and go on the run.
Whether it’s anthropomorphic books, porn stars stepping out of movies, or in this case, Broadway parodies, Pratt has always had a way with the madcap. His farces, however, spring organically from character, so the situations never seem forced or contrived. And the characters are delightful. Toby and Todd are a good combination (though the editor in me pleads with the author to use two names that don’t look so much alike on the page), but smart-assed Nellie threatens to steal their show, especially during the revival scene in the WalMart parking lot.
Pratt’s other major talent lies in being able to control the disparate elements he brings together so that the story never overwhelms the reader or goes far enough awry that he’s not able to pull it back. I’m not sure how many of his target audience will grok the Broadway elements of the book, but that’s a minor complaint. His prose, as always, is sharp and funny–particularly his dialogue.
A worthy addition to Pratt’s catalog, Todd Sweeney: The Fiend of Fleet High is a zany, cannibalistic farce just right for the YA crowd but adult enough for older readers.
© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler