There a couple of points to be duly noted about Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. First, Alex is not a boy.
Instead, Alex is a 10-1/2-year-old girl with a bowl-shaped haircut and an "Excellent Sense of Humor." And second, the Ironic Gentleman is not an adult with a dry wit but, rather, a very formidable pirate ship.
Adrienne Kress's delightful debut novel tells the tale – in lively and often droll detail – of Alex's entanglement with the crew of the Ironic Gentleman.
The story begins with Alex, an orphan, who lives with her beloved uncle, a doorknob merchant, and adores her "Very Interesting" sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Underwood.
It doesn't take Alex long to discover that Mr. Underwood has pirate origins (which would explain why he teaches fencing in gym class) and is the heir to (what else?) buried treasure.
Alex loves Mr. Underwood but finds him just a bit too passive in the face of challenge. So she takes the hunt for his missing treasure into her own hands, promptly landing herself in hot and scary waters.
To extricate herself, Alex must make her way – on an oversized bicycle, via an evil enchanted train, past an Extremely Ginormous Octopus, through the halls of a deserted hotel in a big, thick forest – to the deck of the Ironic Gentleman.
One of the most likeable things about this book are its characters. Alex makes a bright and appealing heroine and the supporting cast is nicely drawn and full of surprises. Mr. Underwood disappoints – until the 11th hour – and the pirates confuse with their dark charisma. (And who can resist an adventure in which the heroine is pursued by a posse of surly old ladies who drive a car with a bumper sticker that reads, "Driving slower than the speed limit is legal, for your information"?)
The one caution I'll add is that this book belongs in the hands of age-appropriate readers. Alex's adventures are a hoot but at least one loved character dies along the way. There are also some genuinely scary moments for our young heroine, who, in addition, finds her ideas about good and evil put to the test.
But for readers who are ready, this is a tale told with sparkle and wit.
• Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.