Martha Freeman, . . HarperCollins, $15.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-029270-6

Freeman's (Fourth Grade Weirdo) fantasy falters under numerous contrivances. The perpetually hungry and bumbling 12-year-old Varloo, by happenstance the youngest Spy in the history of Hek (an underground Druid cave civilization), emerges from that realm to gather information on the Extros (humans) in suburban Nova Albion (California). Wearing her long Druid gown, Varloo quickly loses both her glasses and the company of the sacred cat, Osi, after a tumble in the creek. She is saved by an 11-year-old boy named Dougie, who hides her in his tree house (coincidentally, his younger brother, Judah, rescues the cat). Though Hekians are taught to regard Extros as enemies never to be trusted, Varloo blabs her mission to Dougie almost immediately and enlists his help. Interest picks up as Dougie pieces together rumors, dating to Gold Rush days, of man-eating trolls on Spook Hill (site of the portal to Hek), stumbles upon Sir Francis Drake's role in bringing the Druids to California; and tries to subvert planned development of Spook Hill, which would destroy Hek. Humorous moments ensue as Varloo discovers mini-marts and junk food, but the claims of friendship between Varloo and Dougie seem exaggerated, given the evidence. The Druids' awkward songs and hokey archaic English grow increasingly grating, a constant reminder of the far-fetched quality of the plot. Ages 8-up. (July)