'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 21 February 2010

Review: The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler

If anyone understands the structure of a cracking story, it’s Paul Collins – an experienced and prolific author of both adult, young adult and junior fiction. In this latest book of adventurous mishap, Collins introduces us to the slightly skewed Milo (real name Toby) – a teen on the verge of a reality breakdown.

When Milo learns his mum has run off with the postman, he consults his best mate Fluke on the best way to track down a misplaced mother. Fluke, a young lad who – for all ‘intensive’ purposes – consistently trips over malapropism stumbling blocks, advises Milo a psychic detective may be his way to ‘make the best out of a mad situation’.

Mad indeed. When Milo sneaks into the room of his neighbour, the obese and psychically gifted Mrs Appleby, his sudden appearance at the foot of her sick bed sends the elderly woman into cardiac arrest.

Figuring it would best, for a variety of reasons, that Mrs Appleby probably shouldn’t die, Milo most bravely gives her mouth-to-mouth and manages revive her – long enough to receive a street name before the chronically afflicted Mrs A gasps asthmatically and gives up the ghost for the very last time.

Horrified he’d killed the woman not once but twice, and hearing the thumping feet of the fast-approaching Mr Appleby, Milo hotfoots it through the window and so begins a bizarre turn of events that trail this whacky teen, including dogs, police sirens and a disgruntled school principal, hell-bent on hate.

It’s not until he meets the mysterious Ginger, however, that Milo’s world really becomes skewed. Collins very cleverly leads the reader through a series of tangled plot trickeries – many a what-if and who-dunnits – en route to an ending that gradually unfolds but still packs a surprising end punch.

Making his characters likeable, somewhat bumbling and very real, readers will readily relate and warm to Milo’s story and his unfortunate series of misunderstandings. Many will also relate to the compromising positions Milo finds himself in along the way, and cheer him along.

Collins injects a tight pace, witty verbosity and relaxed humour to this whacky romp that makes the story attractive to both male and female readers. It takes a honed writing mind to blend nonsense with real-to-life characters and to incorporate surreal elements with those that smack of everyday reality. Collins does this effortlessly in The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler.

It was a joy to meet the unfortunate but propitious Milo – and it was nice to finish this book with that nagging, gnawing (and somewhat frustrating) question in my mind: what happens next? This is by no means due to a sense of incompletion, but rather a sort of motherly, affectionate feeling that I really do care.

Let’s hope Collins finds the time in his busy writing schedule to reveal what’s next for Toby Chrysler – pushed and pulled from pillar to post, Toby's life may be skewed but it’s also intriguing.

The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler is published by Celapene Press, A$14.95RRP. Ages – 9-13.

Paul Collins is the founder of Ford Street Publishing. Read an interview about Paul’s extraordinary literary life.

Teacher's Notes

Author website