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Book Reviews, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

JACK BLANK AND THE IMAGINE NATION by Matt Myklusch

Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation is an exhilirating ride through the multifaceted world of Matt Myklusch’s imagination!

Jack Blank is twelve years old and a resident since infancy of St Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten and Lost (where they have been “crushing the spirit of childhood since 1898”).  Jack does not know who his parents were or how he came to live at St. Barnaby’s.  He knows that he seems to suffer the most abuse from the staff and other residents.  And he knows that things seem to go wrong for him even when he tries to follow the rules.

Having rescued a donation of comic books from the garbage, Jack often hides in the library to read about the fantastic superheros within the pages.  Unfortunately, Jack is caught red-handed with the comic books and forced to throw them in the incinerator.  As further punishment for breaking the rules Jack is given the hopeless task of bailing water in the lower level of St. Barnaby’s.  This task is impossible because, we discover, St. Barnaby’s is built on a swamp and the foundation sinks a few inches further into the swamp every year.  The lowest level of the building is already completely submerged.  As Jack is bailing water on the lower floor of St. Barnaby’s a hand emerges from the murky depths.  The hand is followed by an arm, a head, and finally, a mechanical body.

Jack is shocked to recognize a Robo-Zombie from one of his comic books!  This one is real and seems intent on killing Jack.  Jack manages to escape from the Robo-Zombie but accidentally blows up the Home’s generator at the same time.  No one believes Jack’s story about a Robo-Zombie.  Just as it looks like Jack will be committed to a mental institution, an unknown man appears, flashing his credentials from the Department of Departments and takes Jack away from St. Barnaby’s forever.

This is the beginning of Jack’s journey to the Imagine Nation. The Imagine Nation exists on an island that is constantly changing locations in the world.  It is made up of all manner of living beings and structures.  Jack will encounter people of intelligence, wisdom and courage.  He will also experience fear, shock, grief, isolation and adoration.  In the midst of his interactions with humans, androids, holograms and aliens Jack will begin to understand the similarities and differences between “heroes” and “villains.”

I was captivated by Jack’s story.  Superbattles on the ground, in the air, in the actual, virtual and imaginary worlds with superheroes, supervillains, ninjas, robots and zombies (just to name a few) are not usually my preferred reading material but Mr. Myklusch has created in Jack a character whose exploits are breathtakingly exciting and personally profound at the same time. The last line of the book, spoken by a respected elder in the Imagine Nation, is “Let us begin.”  After reading Jack’s story, I felt as if those words were spoken directly to me.

Readers who are interested in superheroes and comic book-type storylines will particularly enjoy this tale.  With the right classroom this would be a great read-aloud.  it is a story of adventure, yes, but also a fantastic story of one individual learning his own power to make a difference in the world, as well as realizing that difference can take on a lot of different forms–not all of them needing to be spectacular.

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