I wish I’d read this book sooner, it’s so full of weird and wonderful joy – something we all need right now. Duncan Versus the Googleys by Kate Milner is a middle-grade fun fest that I read in two sessions; Perfect for reading out loud to the kids (or big kids) who are currently stuck at home!
Duncan Versus the Googleys follows two children on their quest to find out what ON EARTH is going on at Arthritis Hall – a nursing home for old ladies.
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.Duncan Versus the Googleys
Duncan is a normal kid, he loves playing with his favourite toy (a PooChi called Gizzmo) and going online to play in the virtual world of PooChi Planet. Duncan’s parents have left him at Arthritis Hall over the summer to stay with his great-aunt Harriet.
Ursula, on the other hand, spends her days hiding out in Arthritis Hall, within the walls and in her “dens”, while her dad works as the janitor there.
From the outset it’s clear there is something weird going on. The old ladies aren’t acting like old ladies at all and the kids are being hunted by a monster who lives within the walls of Arthritis Hall.
It turns out that the old ladies are actually criminal geniuses and have created a rival toy brand called Googleys who are set to take over the toy world. Not only that but they are (secretly) fitted with spying software – soon the old ladies will have eyes and ears in every home, all over the world.
The book follows Duncan and Ursula’s quest to not only escape and defeat the monster but also to uncover and thwart the old ladies’ plans to destroy PooChi Planet and put their band of criminals to work, now they have eyes in so many houses!
As well as the crazy (but somehow believable) storyline, Duncan Versus the Googleys is brilliant because of two other things: the beautiful illustrations and the side characters.
Milner illustrated the book herself – you can see the cover above and each chapter has an illustration to accompany it. Milner’s style is unique, it’s both realistic and fantastical – really great for middle graders who are reading the book themselves.
I also have to give a big shout out to the side characters. Mrs Grunt, Great-Aunt Harriet and Mrs Pettigrew: the old ladies and the brains of the operation, are all both unlikeable and wonderfully written – really great villains. There are also some side stories like of Duncan’s friends on PooChi Planet or the criminals (good or bad) who join the enterprise. Alongside this there are stories from around the world – people who have bought Googleys and thus we too can see into their lives. I really liked these side stories, it was a great break from the action and teaches young readers about multiple storylines in a great way.
I should also say that this story, which is based around the idea of surveillance, introduces young readers to the idea that mass surveillance could be a reality (but in a non-scary way!) I wonder if that was what Milner was going for? Either way, it does introduce an issue that young people will have to contend with and even if its underlying – it’s there.