Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink
Jennifer “Queen of Snort” Killick
Fanfare please. For our first review of Her Majesty, Queen Jennifer’s books we’re going back to where it all started: Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink.
It’s a doozy. Alex Sparrow turned me into an instant fan and did exactly what a funny book should: made me laff bunches. Our hero Alex “Double-O-Dufus” and his not-sidekick Jess “Jessticles”, supported by school goth, Darth Davers, and Bob – the Sheldon Cooper of goldfish – are probably the funniest superhero-slash-secret agents you’ll ever meet.
Frankly, Queen Jennifer deserves her crown just for coming up with a hero whose superpower is a farting-ear that detects lies.
Plot-wise, it’s a snort-along ride from the moment an anonymous ad for a £19.99 lie detector pops up on Alex’s computer screen. Moments after using his parents’ credit card to order, the phone rings. When our wannabe secret-agent answers, a spark of electricity zaps his ear, giving him his new power with its stinky side-effects. Now trailing a nauseating stench and guided by the mysterious Professor, Alex must unravel the secrets of Miss Smilie’s PALS scheme, which is turning pupils at Alex’s school into hugging, platitude-spouting drones. Inspirational dolphin posters – yeech. Fortunately, he’s not alone. Another student – Jess – also has a new superpower, with an almost equally awkward side-effect. Together, they must foil the PALS plan for school, then world, domination.
It’s hard to say what I liked most about this book. The smart, sassy humour is unrelenting. Alex is a fantastic flawed hero, brimming with both genuine charisma and hilariously delusional self-regard. He is beautifully, and often, sent up by common-sense, butt-kicking Jess. They feel like real kids, warts and all, and the chemistry between them is completely natural. These two love ripping on each other, the way good friends do. I was also grateful for the core message. Preachy books are a pet peeve so it was good to see a sly dig at groupthink. Our queen serves up some well-judged rude, too. Whatever some lemon-sucking adults might think, it’s a rare child who doesn’t love a dash of bawdy. Killick knows her audience, and she gives ‘em what they want even if it causes a bit of adult teeth-sucking.
It’s never in-your-face though, and that is Killick’s own secret power. Snort takes children’s books seriously and, seriously, there is a lot to admire in Queen Jennifer’s writing. Everything is perfectly balanced. Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink is – on the surface – a funny book with lots of fart gags, and yes, it made me laff bunches. But it’s more than that. Killick writes along a fine line between poise and anarchy, keeping it real one moment and totally bonkers the next, with lashings of wit and a finely judged style that drops her story with perfect precision straight into her audience’s wheelhouse. If Jane Austen wrote modern, fart-
based children’s books, this is what they’d look like.
Publisher: Firefly Press
Full disclosure: I bought this with me own money and have absolutely no connection to Firefly Press.