Project Jackalope by Emily Ecton

The jackalope is said to be a hybrid of the pygmy-deer and a species of “killer rabbit”. Reportedly, jackalopes are extremely shy unless approached. It has also been said that the jackalope can convincingly imitate any sound, including the human voice. It uses this ability to elude pursuers, chiefly by using phrases such as “There he goes! That way!” During days of the Old West, when cowboys gathered by the campfires singing at night, jackalopes could often be heard mimicking their voices. It is said that a jackalope may be caught by putting a flask of whiskey out at night. The jackalope will drink its fill of whiskey and its intoxication will make it easier to hunt. However, legend has it that they are dangerous if approached.

My source for such informative data on the elusive jackalope is, of course, the ever-trusted and trustworthy Wikipedia. The narrator of Project Jacklope, Jeremy, who is a “basic junior high type”, and his next-door neighbor Professor Twitchett, who is “kind of a wack job”, both make liberal use of the same source. So I’m in good company when it comes to finding out about jackalopes and other so-called mythical creatures.

I say “so-called” because after you finish reading Project Jackalope, you may or may not believe that jackalopes actually exist. I’m a skeptic, but then it takes a lot to convince me of anything outlandish. And Project Jackalope is an outlandish tale in which a crazy zoo employee leaves a science experiment in Jeremy’s bedroom along with a note telling him to “keep it safe, keep it secret.” Jeremy ends up on the run, with the jackalope (or animal hybrid) in a Dora the Explorer suitcase. Jeremy’s only friend, and accomplice, is another neighbor, Agatha, Miss Know-it-all, Science Fair Champion, and Accomplished Anathematizer.

Yeah, we are not treated to any examples of the actual words Agatha uses, but at several critical moments in the story, Agatha cusses up a bluestorm, as my mother would say. And Jeremy’s language while not profane, is definitely on a continuum from cheeky to downright rude. Typical junior high. If that’s likely to annoy, don’t read. Otherwise, Project Jackalope is funny and entertaining.

Author Emily Ecton is a writer and producer for NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me, and I think some of the snarky humor of that show rubbed off on her or got into her book or something. Junior high is a snarky time of life, so the shoe fits. Maybe a few examples, chosen, nearly at random, would give a more accurate picture of the tone of this middle grade comedy adventure:

“I rolled my eyes. How corny can you get? You’re going to see the boss. But I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I was getting an ulcer or was going to puke or something. Agatha stopped cussing and got a stricken look on her face.”

“Agatha turned around in her seat and stared at me. Somebody needed a whack with the cluestick.”

“If you didn’t count the problem of the freaking mutant sitting in the middle of the floor, we were all clear.”

“I think I handled the situation well. I immediately slammed the door in his face and locked it. It was an impulse and I went with it. So sue me.”

It may say something about the general level of humor around this house that I read straight through Project Jackalope, laughed frequently, and generally didn’t mind the (unspecified) cussing and the snark. And I’m inconsistent because I just wrote about another Cybils nominee that it was too junior high sarcastic for me to enjoy. It just wasn’t funny anymore after a few chapters, but this book was.

So sue me.

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