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Reviews of "Science Fair" and "The Maze of Bones"

Science and history are made fun in these lively tales.

By Yvonne Zipp / November 27, 2008



Any parents who have stayed up until 1 a.m. getting glue in their hair and giving themselves vicious paper cuts with poster board will have no trouble accepting the premise of Dave Barry’s and Ridley Pearson’s new novel: The science fair is rigged.

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In Science Fair, the stakes are high at Hubble Middle School. Thanks to a donation by an alumnus who made a fortune sending smells over the Internet, first prize is $5,000.

Eighth-grader Toby Harbin­ger is desperate to win, because he sold his dad’s original “Star Wars” blaster on eBay – to a guy who thinks he’s actually Darth Vader and wants his money back.

Unfortunately, the rich kids at Manor Estates always take home first place, and Toby has just discovered the reason: They buy elaborate plans from an unknown source and then pay the übergeek who runs the Science Nook to make them up for them. (Parental help is for suckers.)

But this year, the plans call for classified technology, and the projects are part of a semifiendish scheme to take down the US government.

Barry and Pearson have teamed up before on their sequels to “Peter Pan” (“Peter and the Starcatchers,” etc.), but this is the first time they’ve set their partnership in the real world.

The occasional delicious bit of satire
“Science Fair,” with its combination of broad humor and action, is likely to appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen’s “Hoot.” As a bonus, there’s the occasional nugget of satire adding heft to jokes about exploding eggplants, stinky cheese, and small republics suffering from a shortage of vowels. (Although The Onion did that better about a decade ago).

Any barb aimed at the overreaching goals of helicopter parents (and the unfortunates trapped in their rotating blades) hits the mark.

Barry and Pearson are almost effortlessly in touch with their inner middle-schooler, and it’s impossible not to root for a kid as pelted by unfairness as Toby. Plus, there’s a levitating frog named Fester.

Another writer who knows how to tap into the psyches of fourth- and fifth-graders is Rick Riordan (“The Lightning Thief”), architect of “The 39 Clues,” a new 10-book mystery-adventure series that comes complete with its own website (“Win Over $100,000 in Prizes!”) and collectible cards.

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