River, Freak and Fiona are three unlikely friends united by their outcast status and by the tragedies in their families' pasts. They are also the only kids in town who still live in the neighborhood closest to the mysterious underground coal fire known as Hellsboro. When they find a rare zucchini-colored crayon between the covers of a sofa that appears one day at their bus stop, it launches them into the midst of an intergalactic mystery. Surrounded by teleporting furniture, talking dominos, eccentric neighbors, and axe-wielding grannies, they must rely their own ingenuity and the bonds of friendship to navigate through the many dangers of Hellsboro and save the day.
I had high hopes for this book. For one thing, it has a great title. That and the wry humor of the first couple of chapters set me up for some Daniel Pinkwater-style weirdness and wit. Some of that is present, to be sure. The independent-minded sofa and the sentient Picasso painting / domino are probably worth the price of admission, as are some of the more ridiculous plot devices. Compulsive Completist Disorder? Hista Mime? Flash mobs? Delightful nonsense.
In many ways, though, this is clearly a first novel. The villains are dastardly, the pacing is uneven, and the whole thing wraps up far too neatly. I don't mind a neat ending, actually (huge Dickens fan!), but there wasn't enough groundwork laid for this one. It's nice that Freak's family problems vanish in a puff of money, but alcoholism and domestic violence are usually more entrenched than that. Those are the kinds of flaws I don't expect to see in a serious Newbery contender.
But they are excusable in a darkly funny sci-fi summer read, and that is squarely where I would place Sofa. I'll also be keeping an eye out for Henry Clark's next books - there's lots of talent and potential here.
Publication in July through Little, Brown (Hachette)