Thursday, August 2, 2018

2019 Contenders: A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

Davy Jones and his mother have just moved to the town of Topsea, and Davy is having a hard time adjusting to his strange new surroundings. His locker at school is at the bottom of the swimming pool, the mail is delivered by seagulls, and everyone seems to believe that dogs are a myth. On top of that, Davy is trying to work through his emotions regarding the recent loss of his father. Fortunately, he's developing a group of friends who can help him through, even in the strangest of circumstances.

The closest parallel I can think of to A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean is actually a work for adults: the podcast/book/theatrical production series Welcome to Night Vale. Both take place in universes filled with Fortean/Lovecraftian weirdness, but are actually less about their settings, and more about the bonds of friendship and love that develop and grow even in the strangest surroundings. Both also work hard to develop a sense of mystery and wonder; there are far more plot hooks in A Friendly Town than there are resolutions, and I got the feeling that the book hardly even scratches the surface of Topsea's secrets. (This is the first in a planned series, and my ARC includes a teaser for the second book.)

That said, A Friendly Town doesn't quite have the emotional complexity of WTNV (or of its best point of comparison in children's media, the television series Gravity Falls). That's not really a knock on A Friendly Town, however, especially since the story that the book tells may come to a good stopping place, but clearly isn't finished. I also doubt that anything about the book will mitigate its appeal to its target audience -- budding horror/comedy readers and future Haunted USA viewers should be all over A Friendly Town like ants on candy.

The Newbery may be a harder hill to climb. A Friendly Town certainly has memorable characters and a fascinating setting, but it can't match the thematic power of something like The Button War, or the wistfully elegiac tone of The Penderwicks at Last. But be that as it may, I fully expect this to be a popular title at libraries, and a great title to booktalk.

Published in April by Disney/Hyperion