Thank you, Adam-Troy Castro, for writing a children's book that breaks rules, even rules I agree with, and still makes it work.
1. Oh, look! A book called "Gustav Gloom"! Boys will read it because the main character is named Gustav. Girls will read it because it looks great and, hey, they're used to being COMPLETELY LEFT OUT of all the really fun adventure stories.
(Think I'm exaggerating? Try being a female fan of Tolkien and not having anybody *fun* you can pretend to be unless you're willing to have, like, two scenes *late* in LOTR, or are willing to pretend to be male. Then go read the Harry Potter books and see how many scenes you can find where there are only male characters present, and how many scenes there are only female characters. [Hint on that last one: NONE.] Then go and double-check the statistics about how, yes, in countries that aren't actively killing off their female children, women make up *more* than half the population and like having adventures as much as anyone. Then go light some incense in Lemony Snicket's honor. Then tell me, please, how saying "It's really important that we have male main characters, because boys just won't read female main characters but girls don't mind reading male main characters" is ANY DIFFERENT from saying, "Hey, we *have* to have mostly white characters. We can have a cute black or Latina BFF, but white people just don't feel comfortable unless they're the center of the stage. Sorry, but I don't make the rules. I'm just trying to sell stuff." Tell me how that's any different. I dare you. And yes, I've read editors, writers, and agents saying that first one almost word-for-word.)
So, fine. Adam-Troy Castro calls his book "Gustav Gloom." He lets the reader think for the whole first chapter that Gustav is the main character. By the time said reader finishes chapter two, and then chapter three and chapter four, and realizes that -- wait a minute! The girl who just moved in *next door* to Gustav is the REAL main character! -- it's too late, because the reader is hooked. And if said reader is a guy, he won't lose any Manliness points by reading a book with a female main character, because Gustav is all over the cover and *does* play a perfectly important role.
I love that Castro apparently decided that if people are stupid enough to be sexist, he's going to sell them a book with a female main character anyway, AND HE'S GOING TO MAKE THEM LIKE IT. Because you can't *not* like this book. It's just too fun. Well played, Mr. Castro. Well played.
2. You start this book wondering who exactly Gustav Gloom is, where his parents are, and why he lives in that freaky house. You end it still wondering. If you're me, you've screamed in the past about children's books that start off with a huge teasing question like that but refuse to answer the question until at least book two. If you're me, you've stopped reading series' whose first book you otherwise enjoyed, because you find that particular tease so ubiquitous and annoying. And if you're me, somehow it doesn't bother you at all that even after reading the first book in his series, you still don't know who exactly Gustav Gloom is. That's how good this is.
3. This is a humorous book for middle-school-aged readers. Apparently someone forgot to tell Adam-Troy Castro that these books are supposed to have lots of disgusting bodily references, because *all* middle-school kids find that hilarious. Instead, Castro wrote some actual just plain really funny humor -- intelligent, non-condescending humor that will crack up readers of all ages and make them annoy their nearest and dearest by saying "Let me just read you this one funny part" until they've read the whole book out loud.
Yeah, I liked this book. Can't wait for the next one.