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Reality Leak

by Joni Sensel
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publishing date: 03/04/2007
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780805081251
  • ISBN: 0805081259


Come follow this trail of riddles lined with popcorn and drawn in invisible ink!

Pants that walk by themselves . . . Secret messages that pop up in the toaster . . . A mysterious factory that plants already-popped corn and makes invisible ink . . . or is it inc?

What is going on in South Wiggot? It all started when Mr. Keen arrived in the dusty little farm town?in a wooden crate. Strange things have been happening ever since, and Bryan Zilcher is determined to find out why, before things can go from strange to sinister.

This compelling adventure is like nothing else you’ve ever read. Part Saturday morning cartoon, part secret agent mystery?and all zany fun!
Chapter 1: Special Delivery                         
People did not usually travel down Route 64 stuffed inside wooden crates. Yet here was a crate, a big one, squatting atop the road’s dotted line, and somebody odd was about to climb out.

From his LemonMoo stand by the highway, eleven-year-old Bryan Zilcher gaped. Just a minute before, he’d been gazing sadly as a big white semi sped past. He’d been hoping the brake lights might blink. The driver could still turn back to buy a cool drink. Instead, as the truck bounced over a pothole, the trailer’s left rear door had flung itself wide. A large wooden crate slid from the shadows and tumbled out to the road.

Bryan had braced for an explosion of splinters. Instead of busting on the blacktop, the crate flipped twice, then clunked flat in the center of the road. The truck never slowed. It roared toward the horizon and was gobbled by shimmering heat waves.
Bryan looked both ways down the highway. It stretched along empty, as usual. He eased out to the wooden box, as big as an oven, for a closer look. Nothing hinted at what was inside, but one end of the crate bore a bright orange sticker that said, ?Warning: Do not lick.”
?Why would you want to?” Bryan wondered aloud. Licking a crate seemed a sure way to get slivers in your tongue.

The crate, of course, had not answered. Bryan decided the warning must be in truck-driver slang. Maybe licking was something you did with a forklift. Beneath the orange sticker was a name: Acme Inc.  Keeping his tongue safely behind his teeth, Bryan ran his fingers along one wood slat.

The crate might have been waiting for that. Bryan heard the snick of some invisible latch. Without even a creak, the lid swung open wide.

Bryan had nearly jumped out of his sandals. Now, from a few yards away, he watched first an arm and then a long, spindly leg crook over the crate’s open edge. Slick as scissors, a man clambered out. His white suit and shoes made Bryan think of a preacher or perhaps Colonel Sanders, the fried chicken king. The shiny, gold object in his hand was no drumstick, though. It could have been a small flashlight, except that one end tapered to a sharp, curly point like the tail of a mechanical pig. The device looked like something unpleasant a dentist might use. Bryan shivered despite the July heat.

The tall man looked directly at him. For an instant, Bryan would have sworn that tiny green spirals twirled in the man’s eyeballs. Then those eyes blinked and the spirals vanished. The stranger’s eyes were simply an odd green. They made Bryan think of bitter olives without the red pimento stuffed in.
Bryan shook his head. He had to stop spooking himself. It was only some weird-looking guy who’d shown up by accident. It had to hurt to be dumped out of a truck like that, too.

?Are you okay?” he asked.

When the man grinned, Bryan wished he would go back to staring. That grin had too many teeth. It made the stranger look a bit like a jack o’lantern.

?Greetings,” said Mr. O’Lantern, or whoever he was.

Bryan licked his lips. He considered fleeing to the gas station behind him, but he did not want this man to guess that he was even a bit scared, so he grabbed a paper cup and asked, ?Um? would you like to buy a glass of my delicious LemonMoo?”

The man twisted his neck slowly to the right, then the left. He pointed his metal device here and there across the farmland and tumbleweeds of South Wiggot. Used to being ignored, Bryan juggled the cup and wondered if the strange tool took spy photos or measured radiation. He nearly dropped the cup when the creepy visitor finally turned back and replied with a question of his own.

?At what price, may I ask?” The man’s voice sounded like he might have a metal gear in his skinny throat instead of an Adam’s apple.

Bryan gulped. He usually charged a dollar a cup. But a man in such a well-ironed suit might pay a bit more. He took a deep breath and said, ?Two dollars, with ice.” He hoped the stranger didn’t notice how nervous he felt.
The man tucked his pointy tool into his spotless jacket. When his hand slid back out, he held a small black pouch.

?Of course. Acme Inc. is happy to support local business.”

Surprised and excited, Bryan hurried back behind his card table. He felt safer there. He grabbed his LemonMoo pitcher from his dad’s ice chest, filled a cup, and dropped in two cubes of ice.

 ?Archibald Keen, at your service,” said the man, waiting. ?President of Acme Inc.” He unfolded his long fingers and reached to shake hands. Bryan, reminded of a praying mantis, put the cup there instead.

?Uh, hi. My name’s Bryan.” Hoping to sound as smooth as the stranger, he added, ?President of LemonMoo Enterprises.”

Mr. Keen looked into the cup, his sharp nose nearly dipping into the yellow milk. For a moment Bryan feared he might suck the drink through his nose. Then he realized Mr. Keen was merely looking at it closely.

?It’s like chocolate or strawberry milk. Just lemon instead,” Bryan explained.
?Lemon milk?”

?LemonMoo. My own recipe,” Bryan added.

?Clever,” said Mr. Keen. He took a sip. ?Mmm.” Or he might have said ?Hmm.” But he handed Bryan two crumpled bills from his pouch.

Bryan unfolded the bills before he realized what they were ? play money from some game. ?This is fake,” he said.

?Nonsense,” said the man, drinking the rest of his LemonMoo in one gulp. ?But would you rather have this?” He handed the cup back to Bryan. At the bottom, in a few drops of lemony milk, rested two large gold coins where the ice cubes had been.

Bryan tipped the heavy coins into his hand. Could they be real? He cut off his excitement with a snort. The stranger was just trying to cheat him.

?There’s no such thing as gold doubloons,” Bryan said. ?Or pieces of eight.”
?Wrong again,” said Mr. Keen. ?These, however, are pieces of seven. More lucky than eight. But if you insist?” He reached back into his pouch and pulled out two ordinary dollars. ?Perhaps you’re not as clever as I thought,” he added, handing over the cash.

Ignoring the insult, Bryan took the bills. He offered the coins back to Mr. Keen.
?Keep them,” the man said, waving his hand. ?Check them out if you like.” He looked at his watch. ?I must be off. Which way to City Hall, may I ask?”
A laugh and a groan both tried to escape Bryan at the same time. The noise that came out made him sound like a goat. His cheeks hot, he pointed to the gas station, which was stuck with the embarrassing name of Zilcher’s Zoom-Juice.
?Right over there. In the office. The mayor’s my dad.” He quickly bent to replace the pitcher in the ice chest so he wouldn’t see Mr. Keen laugh about a gas-pumping mayor. When he peeked up, the stranger was gone.

That wasn’t so odd, Bryan decided. With such long legs, Mr. Keen could probably walk pretty fast.

What was strange was the middle of Route 64. The crate was gone, too.
Copyright © 2007 Joni Sensel
This text is from an uncorrected proof

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  • Uncover the bizarre truth of world-changing events in REALITY LEAK.
    From Amazon

    When Mr. Keen arrives in a small farm town with a wooden crate, strange things are observed, from pants that walk by themselves to a invisible ink factory. Bryan is determined to find out the secrets behind these strange occurrences, and with the aid of a girl sleuth the two set out to uncover the bizarre truth of world-changing events in REALITY LEAK.

  • Fabulous fun
    From Amazon

    Almost every day Bryan Zilcher sits by the roadside, trying to sell his invented beverage, LemonMoo, so he can save up enough money to buy a computer. A semi whizzes by, and out tumbles a box. But what climbs out of the box is even stranger: a man named Mr. Keen, who seems more than a little weird to Bryan. When Mr. Keen moves his business into an empty factory in town, Bryan's suspicions get higher and higher. Trouble with a capital T is invading the town . . . can Bryan find a way to stop it? This book was zany, crazy fun. It's got great characters like Tripper and Spot, with plenty of action and excitement. Full of bizarre things like flying money, popcorn planting, and possible vampires, Reality Leak was a blast to read. Perfect for middle grade readers who enjoy a good dose of oddball humor.

  • A wild and crazy ride!
    From Amazon

    This is a very, very fun book to read. From the opening page, the reader is taken on a wild and crazy ride in the company of quirky, likeable and, ultimately, very human characters. It's a mystery story and an adventure story, as well as being very funny. I haven't laughed out loud like this while reading a "middle grade" book since discovering Sid Fleischman. Every time you think you know where the story is going it takes another twist and the reader is left to marvel at Ms. Sensel's imagination and the ease with which she presents both scenes of humor and poignancy. I read portions of the book aloud to some of the "underachieving" seventh- and eighth-grade students I work with - reluctant readers, to say the least. They insisted I start back at the beginning, and soon we were passing the book around so we could each take turns at reading it aloud to the group. What more could you want from a novel?

  • Acme Sans Coyotes
    From Amazon

    Dangers abound in the world of children's literature. The wary author, ear cocked to the wind, nose sniffing about for trouble, must be vigilant every step of the way. And when an author attempts their very first middle grade novel for children, the dangers are likely to increase tenfold. So ran my line of reasoning as I idly picked up and perused Joni Sensel's, "Reality Leak". The book, let us face it, has a charming cover design but how fares the material inside? I was prepared to be disappointed. I was, instead, truly delighted. Living up to its illustrations (and then some) Ms. Sensel brings child readers a book that wants nothing more than to entertain and be entertaining in the process. Mission, as you will see, most certainly accomplished. It was a summer day like any other for eleven-year-old Bryan Zilcher. He was just sitting on the side of the highway in an attempt to sell some LemonMoo (lemon flavored milk of his own invention) when out of the back of a semi flies a wooden crate bearing the label, "WARNING: DO NOT LICK." From this box emerges none other than Archibald Keen, a white-suited stick of a man who describes himself as the president of Acme, Inc. Without further ado Mr. Keen is off, purchasing the local defunct factory and hiring all the residents as employees without going into such dull details as what it is they're actually going to MAKE when working for him. Bryan's suspicious, and with good reason. It seems that strange things are happening all the time now. Notes appear out of toasters. Little girls blow bubbles in the shapes of letters. Trains appear to be running in a town where there are no tracks. Now it's up to Bryan and his friend Spot (a girl who thinks she's a canine) to investigate the real story behind Acme, Inc. and find out whether or not Mr. Keen's intentions are noble or nefarious. I referred vaguely to dangers associated with first time middle grade authors, and for a second there I was desperately afraid that "Reality Leak" would fall prey to one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make. When an author starts haphazardly throwing all the cool stuff they can think of into a story so as to make it kid friendly, they usually end up creating a gawdawful mess instead. Warily I scanned the pages of "Reality Leak" for any hint of undeserved goofiness and at first, to my chagrin, it looked like Sensel was doing just that. For a chapter or two it seemed that she'd given in to her worst whims and created ridiculous stuff without rhyme or reason. Really, the girl that thinks that she's a dog seemed a clear indication of out-of-the-blue nuttiness. Then I read a little further and everything began to fall neatly into place. If there's no rhyme or reason that's because the book demands a complete and utter lack of it. Keep reading and everything begins to even out. The story's plot has a well-thought out beginning, middle, and end and the arc of the tale melds beautifully. Even Mr. Keen (a worthy successor to Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka if ever there was one) with his quirks and potentially malevolent actions makes sense within the context of the writing. Just as you feel Sensel might plunge you off the deep end of cohesive storytelling never to return, she reels you back in so skillfully that you begin to wonder if she wasn't playing with you intentionally all along. The author seemingly draws her nutty occurrences from a host of different sources. At one point our heroes draw a black hole on the wall only to find a train is approaching them from inside that space they just drew. This reminded me of an old Sesame Street episode with some guys putting two sides of a picture of a hole together and then facing the train that approaches from within the finished image. Sensel also looks to old Warner Brothers cartoons as well as adding in some subtle flourishes that are entirely her own. Black and white rainbows, winking waffles, teabags that turn into mice, etc. Now Sensel does attempt to bring in some serious family matter into this otherwise silly tale, and in a way I felt that this was unnecessary. In the story, Bryan's mother left the family a couple years ago and since that time his dad has taken up with Tripper, the smart woman who runs the Post Office. And while Bryan doesn't seriously mind Tripper, he begins to chafe when she starts setting understandable limits for him when his dad fails to. The problem is that this storyline doesn't gel as nicely as it might. References to Bryan's mother keep cropping up in spite of the fact that she doesn't have any bearing on the story at hand and the boy seemingly doesn't think of her all that often anyway. It's not an intrusive element to the book, but it did come off as a little unnecessary at times, and that's too bad. Now it is a fact of nature that authors are not always given the illustrators they so richly deserve. First time authors of novels in particular tend to get the scrapings off the bottom of the barrel time and time again, so it's just a pure pleasure to see Ms. Sensel place her baby in the competent hands of illustrator Christian Slade. Mr. Slade, a former Disney animator, has yet to make a permanent mark in the world of children's literature. "Reality Leak" offers him, then, a remarkable start. Slade knows how to balance the cartoonish elements of this story with just the right amount of reality. I was particularly impressed with his characterization of the mysterious Archibald Keen. Here we have a fellow who is either good or bad, and it's impossible to say whether he falls too far one way or another for most of the book. When he smiles the story says that, "That grin had too many teeth. It made the stranger look a bit like a jack-o'-lantern." Later in the book Slade shows you what the author meant, but at the same time he has to be careful and make it impossible to say if the guy is malevolent or simply weird. The smile does indeed have too many teeth, but the eyes are almost sympathetic in spite of the bushy eyebrows above them. There aren't an overwhelming amount of pen-and-ink illustrations in this book, but their occasional appearances in this story do complement the plot rather magnificently, and for this I am glad. Kids who may enjoy this book include those youngsters in love with Blue Balliett's, Chasing Vermeer series. I've never been entirely comfortable with Balliett as an author, personally. Her books always have characters idly walking along as clues go out of their way to trip them up. Sensel's book, in contrast, has some lively child heroes who find peculiar clues and secret messages after a great deal of hard work. Bryan and Spot are active protagonists. He, for example, keeps a double-cased pillow full of files on his bed in lieu of a computer. When something weird happens he's sure to write it down pronto rather than let actions just happen to him. But if you can lead kids into reading this story by comparing it to Ms. Balliett's work, all power to you. I was a little disappointed to find that there have been blurbs of this book that give away the mystery Bryan and Spot are trying so desperately to uncover. Hopefully this will lessen as the book gains in popularity. As it stands, I wouldn't hesitate to place this in the grubby hands of any grubby reader that happens to waltz into my library looking for a book that is fun and funny to boot. In spite of the record number of children's book publications that climb with every fiscal year, few of the titles out there have as clear a sense of lighthearted glee as Joni Sensel's, "Reality Leak". Never disappointing and always surprising.

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