Title: Stanley Finnigan and the Race Around the Universe
Series: Braderwood Series, #1
Author: Dan Cuoco
Release date: May 2, 2012
Genre: Middle grade; sci-fi/fantasy
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Stanley Finnigan is having a bad day. The bully of the seventh grade won’t leave him alone, his teachers all seem like alien life forms, and to top it all off, the weird new kid in town joined his science project.
But he forgets all of that when the space ship lands next to him.
Stan and his friends—Betsy, Richey, and Bryan—quickly learn that they have been selected to compete in the Great Space Race Around the Universe. Over the course of one week, they will travel to four planets across the universe to recover an odd assortment of items. No contestants have ever completed the challenge before, they learn. And, as they find themselves embarking on an epic adventure, the stakes are higher than they could have believed.
I don’t read a lot of middle-grade, so it took me a while to assemble my thoughts on this book. I found it to be entertaining and easy to read, but it didn’t really win me over to middle grade.
There are a lot of references, both subtle and outright, to now-classic children’s stories: Dr. Seuss, the Muppets, Animorphs, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter. I even saw similarities to Gulliver’s Travels. As a newbie (or, I guess, a prodigal daughter to) middle grade, these references were guideposts for me—ways to envision the fantastical creatures that the kids encounter, and even ways to predict these strange creatures’ behavior.
There are some funny parts, like when Stanley describes his teacher:
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Mr. Travers is actually awake when he speaks to you. His eyes always seem to be closed, and he has a deep, monotonous voice that will put you to sleep. It will make your pillow need a pillow.
But I had a few questions about the plot when the four kids reach Ferrometus and must retrieve a computer chip from an out-of-control android. Why did they succeed in removing the chip when no one else—including what appeared to be a very advanced military—could? Why were the Ferrometuns then willing to hand the chip over to the Renpoles? If they knew they were going to lose the chip anyway, why not just blow up the robot and save them a lot of trouble?
Also, I was put off by the somewhat stereotypical treatment of girls. Betsy is revered for her high emotional IQ, which is fine, I guess. But I wish the only girl in the book wasn’t also the only kid who doesn’t know how to fly a space ship. Stan, Richey, and Bryan immediately take to navigation, no sweat, but they have to show Betsy what to do. Girls play video games too, you know! And we’re not all bad drivers.
That said, I think I read way too far into this book. Overall, Stanley Finnigan and the Race Around the Universe is a fun, imaginative book that teaches about the value of teamwork and friendship. I recommend this book to young readers interested in sci-fi and fantasy.
Note: I know the author of this book, but not enough to sway my opinion about this book!