Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a fun, realistic mystery
Cons: None that I could find
The Bottom Line:
Who killed the hippo?
The solution proves to be
Fun for all ages

A Dead Hippo Provides Big Problems for Teddy

I was reading the monthly e-mail newsletter from one of my local mystery bookstores in 2010, and they highlighted Belly Up, a new novel aimed at kids in later elementary school and jr. high.  It sounded like fun, so when I was in that night, I bought it for myself.  I'm glad I did because it was an absolute delight.

Twelve-year-old Teddy Fitzroy would be the envy of many kids his age.  His parents are working at FunJungle, the newest zoo/amusement park in the country (think a cross between the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Disneyland).  Since it is located so far away from everything else in Texas, FunJungle provides housing for employees on site.  That means Teddy has the run of the park all day every day.

FunJungle has only been opened for two weeks when Henry Hippo dies.  Thanks to an animated TV show, Henry was the park mascot and one of the big reasons that people were flocking to the park so soon.  Teddy sneaks into the autopsy and finds out that Henry was murdered, however, the doctor was told to cover that part of things up.  Can Teddy get any adult to believe him?  Will he figure out who killed the hippo?

Writing a mystery for kids can be very tricky.  How do you get a kid involved in the case without making the adults look like idiots or, worse, unconcerned with his safety?  The author does a perfect job of that here.  In fact, he makes Teddy's parents into some of the best adults I have read in a kid's book in a long time.

But the Fitzroy family is just the start of the great cast of characters.  Most of the rest of the adults only get painted with broad brush strokes, but I loved Teddy's partner in detecting, Summer McCracken.  Summer is the daughter of FunJungle's owner, and the author does a great job of making her seem real and building a fledgling friendship between the two.

The plot was very enjoyable as well.  It kept me entertained and guessing from the first page to the climax, and I had no clue who had done it until the end, although the ending made perfect sense.  Even with all the background on zoos, animals, and the main characters scattered throughout the book, I never felt like I was getting a data dump that slowed down the action.  That was even true in the first few chapters, which gave us the most background.  And there are several action scenes that made my pulse rate jump.

Obviously, credit for that goes to the writing.  The story is told first person from Teddy's point of view, and that gives it the needed push to wrap us completely in the story.  I'd start reading and completely lose track of time.  I never wanted to put the book down.

The book has several scenes that dapple in bathroom humor.  I suspect that boys especially will get a kick out of those scenes.  While I normally find bathroom humor disgusting, I've got to admit even I found these scenes pretty funny.

Author Stuart Gibbs has a definite winner on his hands with Belly Up.  I may be older than his target audience, but you can bet I will be watching for his next book.

After one visit, you'll definitely want more trips with the FunJungle series.

This is this week's entry in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Check out the other entries.


  1. This was a fun book, and it circulates well in my school. Thanks for joining MMGM!

    1. I'm glad to hear kids are reading it. It deserves to be read.

  2. at my school were having battle of the books, this was one of the twelve books, every body loves it, i just forgot the characters, i cant wait for the next one