Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“It is only fair to warn you, before we go much further, that so much in this story is upside down, backwards, twisted, devious or just downright peculiar.”
Seeing as a lot of us have risen to the challenge of homeschooling their little ones in these uncertain and downright scary times, I thought it’d be nice to review a children’s book – one that mixes humour and adventure with the weird and wonderful! After a search on Netgalley for something to fit that criteria, I stumbled across this – it was an absolute joy to read and I’m sure you and the kids will love it just as much!
Duncan Versus The Googleys by Kate Milner follows the story of Duncan, who has been left to reside with his Great Aunt Harriet at Arthritis Hall for the summer holidays. He expects the next few weeks to be dull, but when he joins forces with Ursula, the caretaker’s daughter, things suddenly become much more interesting, but also dangerous. Will they reach the end of the summer in one piece?!
There were two things that stood out to me as soon as I began this story. Number one, the humour, which all good children’s books should have in my opinion, and number two, the narrative. It reminded me so much of another book I’ve read before (and I can’t for the life of me think of what it is, which is frustrating!) The story instantly makes the reader feel as though they are a character in the story, and the narrator is involving the reader by talking to them directly. I loved how daft certain characters were, which helped this story stick in my brain!
When Duncan is dropped off at his Great Aunt Harriet’s, he doesn’t expect the summer holidays to be remotely interesting or exciting. Remember when we were kids and we were forced to visit those relatives we really didn’t want to visit? We’d be much happier in the comfort of our own home, playing video games or simply not having to interact with adults. This story brought back those memories and gave me a giggle. Duncan does what he’s told, bless him, even though he feels as though he’s in for a boring few weeks. However, being introduced to Ursula would definitely change all that. Hopefully he’s up for a little adventure, even when instructed to stay in one place and make no noise whatsoever…
Even though we primarily follow Duncan’s story, we also follow some parts of the story from the point of view of other characters, which worked really well. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Ursula’s side of things and thought that she was a really feisty little character! From the clever description, I could easily visualise what she looked like and create her personality and overall image in my head, and I also thought she was a great character for younger people to envisage. Ursula fights the urge to tell Duncan about the monster living in the walls at this point, but I had a feeling that the pair would be sharing secrets and adventures soon enough.
“Parents act all superior, like they never do anything wrong.”
Ursula takes Duncan to his Aunt Harriet’s apartment where they find some strange and completely random items, which automatically makes us think that Aunt Harriet is a bit of a strange, eccentric being – without even meeting her yet! I liked how the reader is able to build up a vision of this character, without reading any description of her. The author has done something unique here and I really appreciated this unusual way of getting to know a character and to learn about their personality.
As Duncan and Ursula get to know one another better, Ursula shows him around the building and lets him in on a few secrets. She knows where all the unknown passages are where she can sneak around and never get spotted, and even shows Duncan around one of her favourite dens. I liked how the pair began to trust each other more with each chapter, and Ursula also goes out of her way (almost getting into trouble) to save Duncan’s confiscated Poo Chi Pet, Gizzmo. This gesture alone says a lot, and this character really wants a little praise and appreciation every now and then! Ursula was my favourite character in the book so far as her actions definitely speak louder than words. The author has done a great job of portraying this throughout the book.
After another encounter with the monster in the walls, this time with Duncan present, things began to get more dangerous; it was time to let Duncan in on this! While the pair come up with a plan to find out more about this monster, another toy trend was developing across the world in the form of Googleys, which were programmed to learn like children, copying the humans around them. I was very curious to see whether or not these new toys would be welcome. Ursula doesn’t seem to think so, even though she has one of her own…
Ursula finds herself in trouble with the monster and Duncan somehow finds himself parading around in a Googley costume – but in doing so, Duncan finds out some horrifying information. Awful Mrs Grunt is planning to annihilate Poo Chi Planet! With Duncan’s online friends being the only ones who can help outside of Arthritis Hall, it’s up to them to provide help, especially since Ursula seems to have been taken captive. Duncan quickly comes up with a plan, one that could not only save himself, but his friends and Ursula too. Will his quick thinking be enough to save Poo Chi Planet and to rid the world of Mrs Grunt’s army of Googleys?
“Duncan still hated these confined spaces but he knew the trick of not being scared is to concentrate on the next thing that has to be done and not let your imagination run away from you.”
Duncan becomes much braver than he expected, plotting against Mrs Grunt, Aunt Harriet and the monster. Saving Ursula was important! The danger was clear at this point and it would take a lot of hard work and determination to get out of their predicament safely. The author has done a great job of building up the suspense for the reader, encouraging questions like, “How will they get out of this one?” and “Will Duncan be able to save himself as well as Poo Chi Planet?” It was easy to grow an attachment to these characters, and I was curious to see if there would be a happy ending, or if Duncan and Ursula will suffer the consequences for what they have done.
We come to learn a shocking truth about Aunt Harriet and the Googleys, and just who created that horrid monster by the name of Fluffkin. The story fits together well, and I especially enjoyed how the main characters came together to do good in this technologically advanced world – acting heroes when they least expected it! The story from start to finish has been engaging and action-packed with characters that are easy to love throughout. Ursula was still my favourite at this point, and I just wanted to scoop her up and give her the care she needs and deserves!
Learning Mrs Grunt’s plan was a little worrying, and is every parent’s nightmare. The Googleys acted as a spy camera, so wherever it was situated in the home, Mrs Grunt and her minions would be able to see exactly what was going on and spy on whoever they wanted. An interesting road to go down in the plot, but not something I would personally be comfortable with letting my children read about. I know many parents would feel the same way! However, the book does seem to be aimed at older children, who may be able to overlook this and not take any fear away from it. Something to think about!
As everyone is fighting as hard as they can to control the monster (and trying to prevent it from eating yet another human), Ursula lets a significant piece of information slip that we didn’t expect! This raises more questions and makes Duncan question why Ursula acts how she does. Even towards the very end of the book, the reader is kept guessing and there is never a dull moment. With still so much to sort out with only a few pages left, I was very interested to see the story’s conclusion.
“It was only now that he could stop being frightened that he realised how very frightened he had been.”
When joining forces with people around the world, Googleys became a thing of the past. They were shut in cupboards, turned to the wall and basically not trusted by any parent ever again. Duncan and Ursula had achieved their goal! It was fun to hear how the people around the world were discarding their own Googleys and exactly how Duncan’s experience at Arthritis Hall had changed him. Would his life ever be the same after this? One thing is definitely for certain – he’s made some great friends for life!
Duncan has the adventure of his life in this weird, wacky, yet wonderful book! From unpredictable Aunts to monsters living in the walls, Kate Milner has gone above and beyond to create a summer like no other. The book teaches about friendships, trust and helping those in need, as well as how to stick up for yourself. This children’s story is easy to read with a great writing style and splashed with humour in all the right places. Would definitely recommend!
Thanks to Netgalley and Steerforth Press for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of the book through Amazon UK on Kindle or paperback, or Amazon US, available to pre-order in paperback!
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