Goodreads: Return to Augie Hobble
Source: Shelf Awareness giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale-or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he’s failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won’t acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won’t leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he’s turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in-until the unthinkable happens and Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
Return to Auggie Hobble is a book that most readers will either love or hate. It is imaginative, quirky, and a little gritty, but it is also disjointed and, at times, inexplicable. It is difficult to categorize and difficult to pinpoint what is holding the story together, beyond Augie Hobble himself. While this will be frustrating for readers who like something resembling order in novels, it may appeal to readers who see in its structure a mirroring of the messiness of life or readers who just like to read about wild and entertaining turns of events.
The jacket of the ARC summarizes the novel in appropriately vague terms, stating that “Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal events take on a different meaning.” Notably, the summary never barely says anything about what the original meaning of these events is supposed to be or may be imagined to be, which is bewildering, and, frankly, the mark of a poorly-written synopsis. However, this bewilderment perfectly matches the experience of reading the book itself: a bunch of ill-defined potentially paranormal things happen, and the suggestion is that werewolves are happening (but nothing more concrete than that…just werewolves…around us…as us…maybe), and then suddenly something different paranormal is happening! No explanation of anything given.
Interspersed with all this sort-of-maybe-probably paranormal stuff, however, are a couple other story lines. First, Augie has failed creative arts and must make up his final project over the summer. This, too, is odd since “creative arts” is not a standard school subject and it is not even usual for middle school kids to be able to fail a whole subject due to one bad project (trust me: no teacher wants to see you in summer school). However, this project does prop up what little structure the novel has. The second story line is the saga of Augie’s father’s failing amusement park, Fairy Tale Place, which provides an appropriately bizarre setting for such a bizarre story of creativity and paranormalcy.
The book functions as both novel and Augie’s notebook of creative arts project ideas, so the reading experience is of a hybrid novel/graphic novel. This is doubtlessly one of the book’s major selling points. The comics, writings, and photos certainly contribute to the book’s quirk and are one of the major ways the author conveys Augie’s personality to the readers. They also showcase the author’s talent as an illustrator. However, they do add to the sense that the book is essentially haphazard.
Simply put, Return to Augie Hobble has a lot going on, and it is not always logical, and it does not always mesh. It will appeal to readers who either like the craziness of it all or who just appreciate its somewhat dark tone. Yet a lot of readers will undoubtedly be frustrated, baffled, or both. Although I understand what the book is trying to do, I personally fall in the frustrated camp, and cannot think of a particular reader I would actually recommend the book to. Either way, the book will incite strong reactions, and is likely to find a dedicated audience somewhere.