Do you ever finish reading a book and get the urge to hold it aloft, presenting it to the world Lion King style for everyone to enjoy because you loved it that much? Well that was me with Mat Larkin‘s quirky and engaging middle grade novel The Orchard Underground.
Pri Kohli has lived in Dunn’s Orchard all his life, he’s even ‘the face’ of the town. But when newcomer Attica Stone arrives on the scene and starts asking questions – mainly ‘Why is there a distinct lack of orchards in a place called Dunn’s Orchard?’ – Pri realises his town holds more mysteries than he thought, and thus a reluctant detective was born.
Firstly, this book is incredibly funny. I legitimately snorted out loud like an over-excited seal more than once (#glamour).
I don’t know if anyone else remembers Rik Mayall’s kid’s show from the early 90s, Grim Tales, but there’s a similar oddball, delightful humour that this book encapsulates. Mat has such a brilliant way with words and can make anything take a comedic turn. This part when Pri was attempting to infiltrate the local mechanics was one of my most memorable seal-snorts:
“Between the ruts is a spiky bank of crabgrass, weeds and twigs. It looks nasty, but it’s hard to be sure from the top of the gate I’m currently climbing over so, to be absolutely certain, I miss a foothold, overbalance and expertly plummet into the middle of it.” (pg. 107)
Then there’s also Pri dealing with other injuries (“The index finger is sticking out at an angle that fingers generally don’t stick out at because fingers are wise and do their geometry homework”), and the hilarious way ‘bad’ words are alluded to (I’ll just say ‘whales’ and let you find out why when you read it).
The Orchard Underground has some of the most amazingly madcap yet genuine characters you’ll be lucky enough to meet. As well as delivering some fine deadpan humour, Pri is prone to monologuing out loud but he also cares deeply about his family and the environment around him. The new girl in town, Attica Stone, is an adventurous, kick-butt dynamo who sticks up for her mates and makes Pri more inquisitive. Then there’s their other friend, Slotcar, who appears zany on the outside but her mad riddles and stories should never be discounted when there’s a crisis afoot. In fact, the whole town is brilliant – the residents of Dunn’s Orchard reminded me of the residents of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls with all their quirky and distinct personalities.
I appreciated that there was more than one mystery to be solved as well. Not only did Pri and Attica need to find out why there aren’t any orchards in town, they also had to deal with the mysterious boogeyman-type figure called ‘The Razz Man’ who lurks in the woods. Plus there’s also smaller mysteries, like why Pri and his former friend Evan fell out – and the intrigue of why there’s a sloth on the front cover. Not to channel my inner-Kristen Bell, but sloths are the actual best and every book should have one in it.
An added bonus reason as to why you should read this book is the chapter titles. Some are straightforward, and some are called things like ‘origami moose’ and ‘fnargh’, which is just plain fun.
The Orchard Underground is a witty, grand adventure that will leave you smiling and wishing you had your own weird and wonderful town mystery to solve.