Mucus Mayhem: The Almost Epic Squad
Mucus Mayhem: The Almost Epic Squad
It hurts to even say this, but suddenly Fairfax didn’t matter so much. I needed to be a REAL hero. I stood up. I took my final time out. Okay, Fairfax still mattered a little. I blew my nose and looked at the tissue.
“I wish there was another Jess here to play—no, to WIN—this game for me.”
All of a sudden, the tissue began to churn. Within seconds, a miniature version of me jumped out and ran to the controller. She was tiny, but danced from button to button like a ballet superstar—faster than my thumbs ever could. I grabbed Daisy’s card and put it back inside the bag. I needed all the good omens I could get.
The time out ended but I didn’t stay to watch. I sprinted up the stairs, into the garage, and onto my bike. As the garage door opened, I sent a text to Cliff and Algernon: “BoogrGirl to the rescue!”
Jessica Flem, 12, discovers that, due to a freak accident at birth, she has an unusual superpower. Exposed to the rare element reidium from hazardous lightbulbs developed in her hometown of Dimly, Manitoba, she finds that, in the presence of the substance, she can conjure up creatures from her own mucus to do whatever she bids them. Together with her best friend Cliff, Jessica sets out to foil the efforts of her former babysitter, Garvia Greep, to steal the trust money granted in the accident lawsuit, and then to thwart Greep’s plan to create an army of zombies using the power of all the reidium in the world. With the help of a government agent named Algernon Souris (actually a sentient rat created by the same power), the two follow Greep and her mysterious Boss to a big hockey game in town where Jessica’s mucus creates a powerful Hydra creature to stop Greep’s blimp from stealing the supply of reidium.
Mucus Mayhem, the first in the “The Almost Epic Squad” series that follows the adventures of each of the four babies affected, takes both improbability and grossness to new heights. Each twist and turn in the story requires re-reading to figure out just what is happening. The text is so full of in-jokes, double entendres, and pithy irony as to make it confusing, leaving almost no room for suspense, character development, or even real excitement. Particularly confusing is a scene where, in testing her powers in her garage, Jessica accidentally conjures up a giant cat. The cat gets its head caught in a door while Jessica and Algernon fight over the garage door opener remote, but it is hard to figure out which door is being referred to and why it matters if the door is open or closed. In the end, the cat rips the opener right off the wall—even more confusing, since a garage door opener mechanism is typically ceiling-mounted.
While the idea of Jessica being able to conjure up a minion from her discarded tissues is original, it’s almost too gross for its own good. The explanation for her constant tissue use, her chronic asthma and allergies, is not terribly convincing, and Cliff’s practice of saving her used tissues in plastic baggies as if they were art (or archaeology) is almost beyond the pale. At one point, Cliff makes her eat a clove of garlic as a safety precaution against the reidium she’s been exposed to—except that a previous passage implied garlic was an accelerant for the element. With little in the way of explanation, Cliff develops the ability to read some of Jessica’s thoughts. Finally, the description of the blimp in the final chapters shows some signs of poor research—it is described as having a hull full of reidium bulbs, while the hull of a blimp is simply the hydrogen-inflated top mass and does not take cargo; the bridge is described as having a steering wheel, while blimps would typically have a combination of rudder and elevator to control direction.
There is lots of potential here for a fun and overwhelmingly silly tale, especially in the constant wordplay. Cliff tries to use Latin expressions whenever he can, Dimly is an obvious take on Gimli, MB, and even the name Garvia evokes the author’s radio colleague Garvia Bailey. The excerpt above, where Jessica realizes she can’t participate as her avatar Fairfax in a video game championship when she has a world to save, is the one instance where she stops being a vehicle for a series of almost random plot devices and becomes a real person. But it is short lived. Mucus Mayhemis so complicated, so wordy, and so difficult to follow it’s not really even much fun.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and a board member of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations/ canadienne des associations de bibliothèques.