Faded Hollywood starlet Lily Larouche throws a blow-out Christmas costume party at her palace in the desert. Thirteen years ago, she found a baby in her laundry room with a note saying “This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby”. Now Jo is the responsible take care of her “aunt”. A mysterious Russian named Korsakov gets in a dust-up with a teen in a hedge-hog costume, who comes back with a gun. A package from the sky lands on the teen’s head and he accidentally shoots Korsakov. The package says “to: jo larouche, from: the order of odd-fish”
Why Jo might be hard to identify with: It’s always a little tricky having a hero who wants to shut the party down. Certainly we get the sense that Jo is not James’s own favorite character. But the three authors that seem to be the biggest inspirations here, Dahl, Juster, and Adams, all have in some of their biggest books party-poooperish heroes surrounded by wilder, more fun-loving characters. (Matilda is an exception)
- If there’s one thing this book does not lack, it is an abundance of vivid details. The Ruby Palace comes alive instantly with sights, sounds and smells (Jo closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar smell of Aunt Lily’s parties: the lemony smoke of tiki torches; the clashing, flowery perfumes; the warm musk of cigarettes . . .)
- Every member of the ensemble is strongly characterized, with not just strong personality traits, but unique syntax.
- A classic trick: She overhears herself being criticized: “Did you see?” whispered the eggplant. “Lily’s gone nuts again.” “Cracked as a crawdad, and worse every year,” said the UFO. “The woman’s going to hurt herself.” “It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the poor girl. Do you know, I’ve never even seen her?” “I heard she’s some kind of freak, actually,” said the UFO. “Remember what the newspapers said about her being ‘dangerous’?”
- We care about introverts in party situations. Once parties get wild enough, we’ve all felt that way: “Nobody noticed her in her plain black dress, but she preferred it that way. She hated attention.”
- Like Harry Potter killing wizard-Hitler, Jo is already bad ass as a baby, for some reason nobody knows. We like dangerous characters.
- She’s volatile and scrappy: “Jo didn’t have time for this; her heart was beating too hard, she had to find Aunt Lily—but she heard herself shout, ‘Hey! Get back here!’”
- She can throw someone’s words back at them, which we always like: “‘I have dispatched my partner, Sefino, to patrol the grounds for suspicious characters.’ ‘You’re the most suspicious character I’ve ever met.’”
- We always like spies: “Jo never talked to Aunt Lily’s friends, but she loved spying on them.”