cover image BENNY AND OMAR


Eoin Colfer, . . O'Brien Press, $7.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-86278-567-3

Fans of Irish author Colfer's Artemis Fowl will find this contemporary novel a real change of pace. Benny Shaw's passion is hurling (an Irish version of field hockey), and he's crushed when his father's job takes the family to North Africa for a year. Not only will he miss watching the All-Ireland Hurling Final, but he also has to deal with culture shock, from Tunisia's fierce heat to scorpions to a classroom run by a pair of aging hippies named Harmony and Bob (who say things like "remember, positive emotions only" and delight in group hugs). Benny slips over the wall of the company's gated compound one day and strikes up a friendship with Omar, an orphan whose only English comes from watching pirated TV (e.g., "Night, John Boy"). The two bounce from one scrape to the next, and Benny learns a lesson about family loyalty when his friend's devotion to his institutionalized sister sparks a climactic finale, with the two on the lam from the law. Colfer smoothly layers adventure, moments of poignancy and subtle social commentary, and his comic timing is pitch-perfect (at the airport, "Georgie was sad wishing his Grandad farewell, Benny distraught over losing a steady source of fivers"). He studs the prose with Irish slang ("eejit," "the dole," "that yoke"). Readers will hope that the story's sequel, Benny and Babe, will cross the Atlantic soon. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)