Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.
Archer longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?
It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures to end up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps from a run-in with a crocodile. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).
And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.
Well, it’s not bad, anyway.
But nothing goes quite as they expect.
The Doldrums is wonderful. Charming and odd. It is strange; just ever so slightly out of the ordinary. It is humorous and plucky with a quiet intensity binding it all together. I’ve seen The Doldrums described as Wes Anderson for children, and I have to say I agree. Throw some Lemony Snicket-esque snark and you’ve got a good idea of what this novel is like.
I loved every minute of it – the friendship, the adventures, but most of all the atmosphere. This book has a sense of timelessness to it, the story that takes place within can belong as much to the present as to the childhood of any older reader. Gannon infuses his text with a reminiscent tone bringing on acute nostalgia for summers spent with friends, minds far away in grandiose plans of adventure, stuffed full of secrets too important for adults to know. Paired with sepia toned illustrations, the story slips comfortably into everyone’s imagination.
I loved the slow, thoughtful pacing, creating space to build up the friendship between Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver and fully immerse the reader into their world. Gannon perfectly captures the eleven year old spirit. Too old to believe in the make-believe yet too young to inhabit the adult world, Archer and his friends are young enough to dream big and old enough to be able to make things happen. Fully grounded in reality yet without responsibilities, they are free to be themselves. And for Archer, that means planning grand adventures around the globe.
What clinched the deal for me was the realism of how the plot unfolded. This is not the kind of middle grade book where children run away from home and take on adult roles in highly unlikely situation. Rather, The Doldrums finds plenty of adventure with out having to extend to the realm of the fantastical or the improbable. Together, the three friends turn ordinary moments into memories. The campfire on the roof is my favourite scene in the book. And I LOVED the ending for the very same reason.
The illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. They are detailed, atmospheric and work to enhance the story rather than simply illustrate it. Gannon’s masterful use of line, colour and perspective are enviously gorgeous and expressive. (Speaking of which, who doesn’t want to move into one of the homes on their street? Especially Adélaïde’s Parisian style home!)
I cannot wait for book two. Highly recommended to all middle grade lovers!