Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett
My Our Approach
I was very interested when I received a request to read and review The Guttersnipes. It’s aimed at children so I had big plans to read this to my 7 year old daughter. I’m sick to death of Roald Dahl with his “Charlie and the Chocolate factory” and the “BFG”. Read: Big Freakin’ Grammar problems, more like – made up words and disordered sentences. In a galaxy far far away, maybe Yoda learnt his English from reading a few Roald Dahl novels.
I wasn’t up for reading this nonsense to my daughter in Holland, where English is a second language for her. So a happy cue to The Guttersnipes where Scott uses English words with the right spelling and in the right order. What a relief!
To balance first impressions up a bit, I should mention that at first I didn’t like the title – though this is out of my own ignorance because I was afraid it was a made up word. Not something nonsensical like Dahl’s snozcumbers etc., but more along the lines of Stephen Kings “Langoliers” (a novella in “Four Past Midnight” – which incidentally has a time related theme).
By the time page 70 came around I learned that a “guttersnipe” is actually a noun and means something! OK, so I learn something, and where younger readers learn this word early in their life, I’m learning it now at the ripe old age of 45. This old dog is learning new tricks! (Well,words!)
Our My Approach
Two things happened when we started reading this. The first is that time dilated to the point that the further we progressed, the slower it took. Mass increases as we approach the speed of light; estimation of time required to complete this novel increases exponentially with the time we spent reading together. Two pages took two weeks. No, don’t ask how, because I don’t know.
So with this in mind the “we” became “I” and I read the remaining pages on my own – but admittedly still from from the perspective of a (slightly over-) protective father (albeit with the caveat that if you’ve seen the movie “Finding Nemo”, Nemo’s neurotic father actually had a good point.)
I think the “Children’s / Teenage” ‘rating’ here is confusing. I’d come in at the children angle. I don’t think it would be fair to call a teenager a child in this sense, but I do think it would be unfair to let a child (here I’m talking about my 7 year old – though this is subjective to any child) near this novel. There are some pretty gruesome parts – plucking eyes out, pulling teeth out (not in a dentist – as a means of roughing a child up), boys being paralysed from being kicked by horses…
I’m glad I stopped with my daughter when I did – this is an education that think she can wait with. But yeah, every child (and parent) is different, so ultimately this decision will be up to you.
On the educational note, The Guttersnipes does have a few snippets of relevant and contextual information. It’s not as full on as Making it Home and Stumbling on a Tale by Suzanne Roche, though at times I wondered whether the background research had got a little over enthusiastic!
The main character is Charlie. Thankfully Charlie has no chocolate factory, but what he does have is a pet dinosaur. Specifically, Trike – a dwarf triceratops. The story behind how Charlie finds Trike is “…really long” and I wonder if there’s a novel in the making here!
Trike is a silent but important part of The Guttersnipes because essentially he’s the trigger for Charlie and his friend Arty to go back in time. But Trike doesn’t really get much of a mention, and certainly the relationship that Charlie has with him is barely touched so personally I didn’t empathise with the mission to rescue the poor dwarf triceratops.
The beginning of the the novel shows Charlie to be a crap friend to Arty who seems to bend over backwards to help Charlie. I think Arty is the unsung hero of this novel. He suffers the most, receives minimal support but does what he can to help Charlie and Trike.
I don’t really know who Charlie is. Indeed, at times he almost becomes a minor character in comparison to many other stronger characters which Scott has written into the novel. The blurb states that Charlie is “…more than six feet tall” and “…allergic to almost everything” though neither of these ‘attributes’ come into play. Conversely it’s Arty who seems to have a history behind him. He’s the guy who I’m rooting to get back home!
The Guttersnipes is most definitely a very fun read! It’s fast paced with interesting characters and cross links between them and it’s easy to see how this will appeal to the YA audience. That said, whether it was the writing style or the historical setting, I was reminded at times of the more adult level The Anubis Gates (Tim Powers) and The Map of Time (Felix J. Palma), two novels which I also thought were very good!
There’s only one thing which wound me up about The Guttersnipes, and that was the overuse of a couple of phrases – Charlie repeatedly “Chomped down on his bottom lip”, and other characters “gimped off”. Perhaps it’s not that bad, but you know how it is once you notice something…
The time travel element
The time travel mechanism is black box – albeit with a purple beam which takes Charlie and Arty back to New York city in 1865.
I was interested to note that the trip back in time also involved a change in location – Charlie and Arty were no longer in the same location as the house in which they’d left. Because there’s no repeated time travel I wasn’t able to see whether this was a specific feature of this method.
Towards the end of the novel Charlie and Arty meet another time traveller who reveals something more about the time travel ‘process’ – the body of the time traveller reconstitutes itself to adapt to the new time to which it’s transported. This can only be done once – so after 7 days the time traveller is stuck in his new temporal destination (because presumably that’s how long reconstitution takes).
I think there’s something missing here, because if a return time travel trip is possible within 7 days then it’s possible with a partially reconstituted body. On day 7 the body reconstruction reaches 100% and time travel at that point becomes impossible. I struggle to accept that a biological mechanism / limitation would have such a clear threshold.
Still. I welcome biological aspects of time travel (I suspect that this is how it’s going to be done if time travel ever becomes a reality) so I was very happy to read this, especially as it worked in combination with a more traditional technological transportation mechanism –
though painted black with purple light! 😉
Rating * * * *
The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett is a fun and fast-paced read! Whilst the main character (and his pet triceratops) is weak, a raft of other well developed characters and multiple plot lines more than compensate.
I’d caution parents of younger and / or sensitive children as there are some gruesome sections which may be unsuitable.
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