Question: What do you get when you combine a 500-year-old man born in a bottle... an evil society bent on discovering the secret to immortality... and two adventurous 11-year-olds?
Answer: A fun, witty book that kids are sure to enjoy reading.
Yes, Pseudonymous Bosch has done it again. In his obtrusive, snarky way, he's created a story that kids will eat up - but will parents choke on the mild violence and references to the occult?
The Good Stuff
This is a story about a very independent survivalist (Cass) who learns little by little to rely on and trust others - especially Max-Ernest and the members of the Terces Society.
Cass, Max-Ernest, Yo-Yoji and the other members of the Terces Society all exhibit true friendship, as they stand by each other through thick and thin.
Here are a few examples that stood out to me...
- Cass asks Cabbage Face to forgive her for lying to him.
- Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji round up the Terces Society to rescue Cass from the Midnight Sun.
- Cabbage Face sacrifices his life to save Cass.
While "If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" isn't what most people would consider violent, Cass and Max-Ernest do find themselves in some hair-raising situations.
- Dr. L shanghaies Cass and Max-Ernest on board a ship, ties them up, and threatens to use them as shark bait.
- Cass finds out that Cabbage Face (the 500-year-old homunculus) killed the Lord Pharaoh and buried his remains. (At one point, he claims to have "eaten" the Lord Pharaoh.")
- Ms. Mauvais' evil henchmen grab Cass and the homunculus at the Skelton Sisters concert and threaten them with bodily harm.
- Cass is tied to a tree in a graveyard and gets frostbite.
- When the Terces Society battles the Midnight Sun to rescue Cass, there is much punching, flame-throwing, biting and kicking.
Magic, Sorcery and Spirituality
"If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" does have some spirituality of the ancient Egyptian kind.
- The doctor who "created" the homunculus was a devotee of the secret science called alchemy - and he wanted power over life itself. He even started calling himself "Lord Pharaoh," because he discovered powers only known to the kings of ancient Egypt.
- The immortality-seeking loonies of the Masters of the Midnight Sun chant while the Lord Pharaoh's grave is dug up.
- Ms. Mauvais calls Lord Pharaoh a "god." She wants to continue his work, so the members of the Midnight Sun can be gods too.
But there's something else...
It's not exactly magic, but there are some strange, unexplainable things that happen in the story.
For example, Cass has nightmares about a short, odd-looking little creature (the homunculus) - BEFORE she even knew he existed. She also dreams that he could be found at a nearby lake - and lo and behold, that's where she finds him.
And while I'm on the topic, how can Cabbage Face (the homunculus) be alive in the first place? He was created in a bottle 500 years ago. Who comes into the world like that - and who lives that long? It's very strange, if you ask me.
Plus, there's the mysterious Sound Prism that has the power to call Cabbage Face. Hmmm... Not exactly magic, but how do you explain it?
Drugs and Alcohol
Cabbage Face steals a bottle of wine that Cass' grandfathers brought along on the camping trip to the lake. The kids discover that he has a cache of stolen alcohol when he graciously offers them a drink of wine, vodka, gin, malt scotch, tequila or cognac. (The kids wisely drink water instead.)
Other Negative Stuff
Our heroes do a bit of lying, stealing and disobeying in order to have their adventures.
- Cass and Max-Ernest ignore their teacher's orders to stay close and slip away from a class trip to meet up with the Terces Society... and end up in a mess of trouble.
- Cass steals the Sound Prism from Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais - but I suppose the fact that she "stole" from the bad guys makes the theft a bit more justified.
- Cass lies to the homunculus to get him to come with her to the Terces Society.
- Cass uses the Sound Prism to eavesdrop on a couple of girls in the school bathroom.
- Cass lies to her mom to get her permission to go to the Skelton Sisters concert with Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji.
My Two Cents
"If You're Reading This, It's Too Late" is a witty, fun follow-up to "The Name of This Book is Secret." Kids will enjoy reading along as Cass and her friends have yet another adventure with the Terces Society. And they'll get a kick out of all the extras in the appendix.
Some parents might not be comfortable with the occult nature of the Masters of the Midnight Sun. But for the most part, this book is appropriate for most 9 to 12-year-olds.