By: Stuart Gibbs
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: May 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 19, 2010
FunJungle is one cool place. It is the biggest, fanciest, most incredible zoo in the whole country. And young Teddy Fitzroy gets to live there (well, right behind the zoo in an area for employees) with his parents. Teddy is the only child living at the zoo and so, as any 12-year-old boy would do, he gets into a bit of trouble here and there. But Teddy’s problems are minor (giving water balloons to the monkeys so they can plaster visitors) compared to what is about to happen both to him, and the zoo.
One fine day at the zoo, while Teddy is hanging out and seeing what trouble he can get into, he learns that Henry the Hippo has died. In fact, he’s gone belly-up in his big tank. When Teddy slips into the autopsy room and learns that Henry was murdered, the adventure is on!
Teddy is aided in his quest to find the murderer by Summer McCracken, the rich, very cute daughter of the park’s owner. The problem with finding the perpetrator is that there are so many suspects because nobody liked Henry. In fact, given his extraordinarily cranky attitude, he was the most disliked animal at the park. That nasty attitude left a lot of people who might be willing to risk everything to get rid of the hippo. Unfortunately, Henry was also the park’s mascot so there was a lot of money riding on his well-being. When somebody tries to stop Teddy by luring him to the ‘World of Reptiles’ exhibit and letting out a poisonous snake, the young man knows that he’s got to find the killer, and soon!
This “tween” mystery/suspense novel was a lot of fun to read. The action comes fast and keeps the story going till the very end. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you learn you’re wrong. It is also obvious that the author has some experience working with zoo animals (he worked at the Philadelphia Zoo) as there are many realistic tidbits to learn about zoos and zoo animals spread throughout the book.
Belly-Up is told in the first person by Teddy and he’s quite an imaginative young man. While he’s a great storyteller, some of the dialog and narration is above what I would expect of a twelve-year-old. “While not as insidious as building a roller coaster in the breeding grounds, the idea of doing a nightly fireworks display was still dangerous.” (pg. 242). I don't know many twelve-year-olds who talk like that. Regardless of this small quibble, the story was a heck of a lot of fun and I suspect young readers will agree.
Quill says: Put your detective talents to work and see if you can figure out who killed Henry the Hippopotamus.