By Rafael Simon
Rafael Simon is known as Pseudonym Bosch, author of the popular, and amazing, Secret Series. “Anti-Book” is his first book under his real name. Its protagonist is very angry with 12-year-old Mikki. He is angry at his sister. She is angry at her sister’s boyfriend. He is angry with his divorced parents. He is angry at his new stepmother (both of them named Charlie). He is angry at the world. It is a rage that is real and harsh.
But “at least one thing” Mickey likes: Bubble Gum King Bubble Gum. There is a slight prize in every pack.
This time the prize is a coupon for a mysterious “anti-book”. The ad reads:
Have you ever known anyone?
Are you anti-evening?
ANTI-BOOK IS ANSWER!
The book arrives. And inside it is empty, except for the words “To erase it, write it down. “
Mikki does exactly that. He writes a list of people and things he wants to erase from his life. Sister, Mom, Dad, School, Tight Underwear, Loose Underwear, Things Not to Come with Batteries: This is a long list.
Whenever Mickey finds out, whoever makes the mistake of a lifetime, will tremble Work done. Soon, however, things on his list are replaced by strange, twisted, mind-bending versions of himself. Unlike Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth”, in which the protagonist is launched with awe and wonder into the fictional fantasy world, the “anti-book” anti-world is scarier than the get-go. There are no early wish-fulfillment adventures in films such as Michael End’s “The Never Story” or “Labyrinth” or “Home Alone”. The “anti-book” is deep – and to know the truth closely.
I read “The Anti-Book” with a pit-in-my-stomach feeling. I mean, the child wished for his life and his world, and that wish came true. Worse, he has ruined his sister, parents, dogs, everything.
Can this situation be reversed or rectified? Has Mickey’s anger taken him away from anything he ever intended?
Mickey is an unpredictable and refreshing hero – really angry, really serious, really sour. Simon does not pull his punches with Mikki, which is why the character works. Because Mikki’s anger and confusion comes from a real place – mystery and despair around the family and himself – they talk to the neglected and overwhelmed and Just so hot in the world Children in all of us.
And as it becomes clear that Mickey dislikes this and fears the most, we feel guilty and complicit for not being more sympathetic from the start.
“Anti-Book” is full of clever wordplay and embellishes life to come. Its world explodes with imagination. Talking cookies, disappearing bridges, reversing gravity, a houseful flying house, a car full of weapons, rip off a nightmare.
The chapters are short and sharp. Sentences are porous. The writing is full of dialogue. To read “The Anti-Book” is to jump – and hold on.
Exploring relationships with siblings, parents, step-sons and boys / girlfriends. There is insight into despair and denial and confusion.
“The Anti-Book” is a surprisingly powerful, formula-breaking coming-of-age story. It is tempting to watch him grow beyond Mikki to get a sense of self and awareness and develop an appreciation and understanding of increasingly mature emotions.