Review: Project Jackalope /Author: Emily Ecton / Publisher: Chronicle Books / Release Date: Out Now
I will put my hand up and admit that my knowledge of Jackalopes is from two very different sources. The first is a passing reference in the sitcom Fraser and the other is as the main character in a short animation from Pixar. Neither of which prepared me for the slice of pre-teen Americana that is Project: Jackalope.
For those of us not in the know, a Jackalope is a mythical creature part rabbit – part, well, something with antlers. It is a killing machine and drinks neat alcohol. If all this sounds a little Monty Python Fluffy Bunny, it is important to remember that it has its origins as a sideshow freak from the Deep South rather than some in medieval manuscript.
The story reminded me immediately of an episode of the Red Hand Gang with added scientific overtones. Which probably says more about the age of this reviewer than about the book itself, it’s often commented that it is harder to write for a children’s readership than for an adult audience. This may be true but this author manages to pull it off with apparent ease. She has created believable and accessible characters without falling into the obvious traps of using well worn stereotypes without giving them interesting twists that make them shine through.
As with so many imported titles, there are culturally specific references liberally peppered throughout. The odd line about ‘Lifesavers’ or a ‘Roomba Vacuum’ could be a tiny bit off putting but here they simply add to the authentic voice of a young teen coping with the reality of dealing with a mythical creature. Although you quickly discover the creature has more to do with the creepy genetic/hybrid work of the ‘strange man in the apartment block’ than some ancient magical force.
Obviously, the narrative needs to move on once the hook of an abandoned genetic experiment has been established and it shifts at a cracking pace. Government sponsored Men in Black soon turn up, resulting in the central character being forced to enlist the help of the school science geek and he must try and keep the creature safe from the previously mentioned ‘mysterious government forces’ while trying to return the (allegedly) killer creature to its rightful owner. Throw into this an impending school science fare and you have a mix that is sure to entertain as well as thrill.
The children in this story feel both real and interesting at the same time and it is nice to get away from the normal single parent/falling for a vampire/ avoiding zombies themes that fill the shelves these days.
Yes, this story does read like a pitch for a made-for-TV movie. But a very good made-for-TV movie. Don’t hold this against a deeply readable book.
Worthy of mention is the rather disquieting authors’ notes at the end of the novel. These cover all of the scientific weaponry mentioned throughout and demonstrate the viability (and government research) that has already gone on to make the things in her book a reality.
Over all, it is a fun romp and SF by the back door for all ages.