An Unorthodox Family Vacation With a Dangerous Twist
Series: The Genius Files (Book 1)
Original Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Paperback Reprint: December 27, 2011
Coke and Pepsi McDonald didn’t want to jump off a cliff.
They didn’t want to get hit by poisoned darts from blowguns either. And they certainly don’t want to get locked in their burning school, thrown into a pit at the top of a sand dune, or drowned in a vat of liquified SPAM. But what are you supposed to do when you’re being chased across the country by your insane health teacher and two guys in bowler hats who are trying to kill you? One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a snap for Coke and Pep to write their essays on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”
Want to join in the fun? Fire up the old Google Maps and follow the McDonald twins as they get chased from the Pez museum to the largest ball of twine in the world.
Watch out for the Frisbee grenades!
When Coke and Pepsi — twin siblings, not the popular fizzy drinks — decide to walk home instead of taking the bus, next thing they know they’re trailed by suspicious men on golf carts and aided by a stranger who helps them execute a cliff-jumping escape! This is only the beginning of a hair-raising summer that sees the twins’ lives repeatedly put at risk.
Coke and Pepsi are intelligent and wisecracking. But their parents are more than a little kooky. More accurately, their mother, who runs online magazine Amazing But True, is bizarre. I have only pity for the father who is at the mercy of his wife’s every whim. See, on their cross-country trek from California to Washington, D.C. (their goal is to reach the District by July 4th for a family wedding), he’d like to stop at historical points of interest like Mount Rushmore, but his wife wants only to take in crazy sights like the National Yo-Yo Museum, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, and museums devoted to Pez memorabilia and SPAM. Included in the text are occasional asides prompting the reader to follow the family’s travels on Google Maps. Though kids may learn something, the mapping adds little to the reading experience, and I’d venture to say it’s never a good thing to ask a kid to stop reading, close the book, and get online. Still, there’s something to be gleaned from this wacky family trip a la National Lampoon’s Vacation, even if it’s just inane geographical trivia.
Let’s not forget the other plot line. This planned family summer road trip becomes a game of cat and mouse as Coke and Pepsi are pursued by persistent but mysterious enemies. They were recruited into a secret organization called “The Genius Files”, a group masterminded by a scientist who believed that children are uniquely equipped to change society and save the world. This part of the plot requires a healthy suspension of disbelief.
The story includes a heaping dose of jokes, and kids will likely enjoy some of the silly, and sometimes flat out GROSS, humor. Some of the references, though, seem directed at parents and are likely to go unnoticed by a child. The narrative focus feels lopsided and disjointed, relying so heavily on the plotted RV route, with inclusions of maps, odometers and such, that the mystery storyline becomes secondary nearly to the point of neglect. This could be cumbersome as the series progresses, leaving kids road weary and asking, “Are we there yet?”
Speaking of endings, Mission Unstoppable just stops abruptly. I had thought they’d make it to D.C. by book’s end. Instead, they make it only as far as the Midwest. Just as the text began on a cliff, it ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. And I’m not exactly itching to pick up book two.
— Dawn Teresa
3 of 5 Hearts. An Unorthodox Family Vacation With a Dangerous Twist.
Although all the pieces are here: laughs, ciphered messages, evil villains, strange trivia, and whip-smart kids who outwit their parents, I found the tale unbalanced and lacking in interest. Recommended, with reservation: If you are inclined to read this or offer it to your child, pick it up from the library.