My review of Michael Hoard’s The Adventures of Nick and Billy: The Mystery of the Rougarou: a fun, fast-paced adventure set in the swamps of South Louisiana. It follows the mis-adventure of two young boys whose love for exploration leads them on a journey through the wilderness where they face not only the dangers of nature, but the darkness of humankind.*
Author: Michael Hoard • Publisher: Biblio Publishing • Published: 2017
Hoard’s children’s book is reminiscent of classic stories like The Hardy Boys and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nick and Billy, both 12 years old, are resourceful and curious kids who stumble, somewhat on purpose, into a situation where they are given the choice to be exceptional or fail. Both boys demonstrate bravery and ingenuity in the face of terrible greed and evil, relying on one another’s friendship and loyalty to make it out of the swamp alive. While I hesitate calling them heroes, as neither boy possesses any particular knowledge or skill greater than that of a boy scout, I can’t help but think that’s precisely Hoard’s point: anyone can choose to be exceptional in times of great danger and darkness.
Hoard describes the unique landscape of Southern Louisiana with a fierce fascination and affection; you can tell this is a story close to Hoard’s heart. His illustrations of the murky, warm waters, hanging trees, and treacherous inhabitants of the swamp are tangible and sometimes terrifying. As I read, I could see with great clarity the legs of banana spiders swinging in front of my face, and feel my arms prickle from swarms of angry wasps. Hoard makes it very clear that the swamp is not safe, and anyone who enters has to be alert, resourceful, and a little bit lucky to survive.
It’s this very resourcefulness that showcases Hoard’s best writing: his descriptions of how the boys clear out snakes, set up camp, and use their compass to find their destinations, are exceptional. I remember reading, as a young girl, Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet, and appreciating the delicate detail Paulsen put into showing how, exactly, Brian survived the wilderness. Hoard’s descriptions are very similar to Paulsen’s. He is neither superfluous nor lengthy in describing Nick and Billy’s actions of survival, but keeps his sentences light, short, and informative. Hoard’s writing style is perfect for young readers to learn about survival while feeling as if they’re right there too, rooting for Nick and Billy to make it back home.
The Adventures of Nick and Billy is intended as the beginning of a series of books about these two boys’ adventures, and as the series grows, I hope to learn more about who Nick and Billy are as people. Despite short sentences about Nick being “lanky” and a “deep thinker,” and Billy being “sandy-haired” with a personality like a “bulldog,” I never felt like I really got to know these boys as much as I would have liked. Due to this, dialogue sometimes felt a little flat, lacking personal tone and style. While Nick and Billy were clearly written to be “good kids” from “good families” who live in a “good town,” Hoard left me wanting more from my protagonists; no one is this perfect. I hope in future books, Hoard expands upon their personalities and explores what makes Nick and Billy unique.
In addition, while The Adventures of Nick and Billy is intended as a children’s book for modern readers, some of the slang that Nick and Billy use feels outdated. This conventional jargon sometimes extends towards the female characters in the book, with Nick and Billy stating they were glad “to be born a guy,” because girls were “perfectly happy as kids playing with dolls and drinking make believe tea.” I can’t deny that this line made me cringe! Nick and Billy’s coming-of-age tale doesn’t need to be told at the expense of girlhood. Hopefully next installments will leave these moments behind and let these boys be true role models for the next generation of adventurers.
And what a first adventure it is! I never give away plot in my reviews, but this is a book that almost makes me break my promise. Hoard excels at narrative and suspense. The very word “adventure” almost feels tame when considering the great obstacles and trials the boys overcome throughout the story. Hoard’s storytelling also makes use of multiple perspectives to weave the reader through these scenes of perilous action, drawing both the boys and the reader deep into the recesses of the wild Louisiana landscape. It’s a tribute to his style how real the setting always feels, no matter the perspective, and I hope it returns in later sequels.
You should read this book if you are a fan of classic adventure novels, and coming-of-age tales. Hoard’s fantastic plot through the swamps of Southern Louisiana is a fantastic story. It twists and turns at just the right moments, never drags, and reaches a heart-pounding climax that makes the pages fly by.
*I received a free copy of Michael Hoard’s novel in exchange for an honest review.*