Thursday, September 25, 2008

Children’s Books: The OK Team 2: Better Than OK

In The OK Team, we met Hazy Retina, a boy who discovered that his tendency to fall apart -- literally! -- when he panicked or was embarrassed made him a member of the super-hero community. Hazy formed a team of other young heroes with their own gifts. Despite their klutziness, they somehow managed to combine and use their talents to help save the world -- or anyway, to save the heroes who could save the world.

Some months later, in The OK Team 2: Better Than OK (Allen & Unwin), the team has become more comfortable with its talents, although some members have left. Liarbird, who couldn’t tell the truth, has gone overseas. Switchy, who can turn into anything from an impressive superhero-type to a helicopter, has been promoted and moved on to special training. One replacement is Logi Gal (“Logic Girl!” she keeps protesting) is the team version of Mr Spock. She knows a lot and makes the team think rationally before yielding to impulse. At one point, she doubts her usefulness in a physical fight, but proves vital in other respects. The other new team member, Gamer, lives life like a video game -- and reaps the benefits, picking up skills and rewards that help the team.

But the villains have discovered a new, performance-enhancing drug. S.T.O.M.P. (Serum That Overly Maginfies Powers), which means that even low-level villains can beat heroes who are following the rules. And in the course of an encounter, Hazy has rashly agreed to something stupid. Worse still, one of Australia’s top heroes, Southern Cross, has started to weaken. The hero community suspects why, but Hazy’s mistake means they can’t fix it- - unless Hazy gives up his hero status, or dies.

Another fun book, filled with such delicious silliness as the elephant-headed boy who keeps shooting lemons at Hazy after failing to make it into the OK Team and hero cafés on top of Melbourne landmarks. And it has its say about performance-enhancing drugs, not only through S.T.O.M.P. but through the mouth of Hazy’s father, a competitive cyclist, who points out that those who cheat will never know how good they really are, or if they could have done it without cheating.

There was a hint that there might be more, when Hazy’s parents fight offstage, but there’s no follow-up within this novel. I think one final book in this series might be enough. The first book introduced the joke and it was wonderful to see this bunch of klutzy kids somehow manage to unite and do something important. In this book, their talents are starting to improve. If it ever gets to the point where the team really is “better than okay,” it will be enough to complete the original theme. For the moment, though, it’s readable and fun and children should enjoy it.

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