Handy Andy Saves the World by E.J. Altbacker is about handyman Andy who saves the Earth from a marauding band of aliens. Considered the “best” handyman, according to what’s written on the side of his truck, the aliens beam him up to fix their broken spaceship. The aliens say they they’re there to make “peace,” but it turns out “peace” means killing everything, not to mention kidnapping his family to be put in a zoo, and Handy Andy must use his handyman powers, limited as they are, to defeat the aliens and save everyone.
This is a professional book on every level. Altbacker, who has a traditionally-published children’s series under his belt, and also writes for the Lego franchise, is a highly-engaging and funny writer. Handy Andy is a breezy, entertaining read filled with humor that will have you literally laughing out loud – kids and adults alike.
At first, it was a bit jarring that Andy was an adult. The title, and the level of prose, makes the book aimed squarely at middle-grade readers, in which an adult protagonist is less common. It’s not unheard of, but the juxtaposition of a person with adult responsibilities with fairly simple language and childlike humor is somewhat strange. It works because Andy’s plainly a fun character to follow around.
And so are his adversaries. The aliens are like something out of a Douglas Adams novel – both extremely advanced and extremely stupid. They have no idea how to fix their ship because it’s normally done by robots. “Who made the robots?” Andy asks. They say it was either during the time of “Great Embarrassment” when aliens did manual labor, or they grew up naturally from moss and lichen. Probably the lichen. It’s this sort of quirky humor that will have you madly flipping the pages.
Perhaps because Andy is an adult, the story calls for someone who’s a bit smarter than he is on the page. At times, he’s as hapless and dimwitted as the aliens he’s been tasked to help. For example, when he first sees the alien ship, he reacts like a child might react. He’s amazed, of course, but he’s pretty laid back about it, all told, even after seeing a squid-like alien. There’s no sense of fear, or excitement about this major discovery, except in vague passing. This may make him more recognizable as a protagonist for younger readers – an adult stand-in for a kid – but it also makes him seem simple-minded at times.
This may be true, potentially, for younger readers as well. It’s not as if kids aren’t accustomed to pathos in fiction, or real danger. But then, this is pure comedy, in which aliens purr and fart. It just didn’t need to be quite as light as it is. Altbacker may have been torn with not having an adult protagonist be “too adult,” but the result is he’s maybe too childlike.
Overall, the book is saved because of its good spirit and humor. It’s plainly a fun read, and kids will breeze through it. It’s pretty much guaranteed entertainment, and you really can’t say that about most books. Recommended for ages 7-12.
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