If my memory serves me correctly (and many times it does not), SOMETHING ROTTEN was my very first Strange Matter book. I got it on one of my many childhood trips to Wal-Mart with my mom, probably sometime in 1996. On our visits there, we'd always pass by the magazine/book section on the way to the toy section, which was a little alcove of an isle near the in-store McDonald's. I'd usually beg to have five minutes to check out the latest scary titles, and when I saw the cover of this particular one -- a red, glowing, dripping blob of ooze sitting on a bedroom desk -- I knew I had to have it.
The rest is history folks, and from then on I went about collecting the rest of the series like the rabid horror-reading tween that I was. An interesting fact before we begin the review: I do believe Wal-Mart was the first and only place to carry Strange Matter, for a good amount of time, at least, and then Albertson's picked up the series to display near their checkstands. Target was all about Goosebumps, so I had to synchronize my Wal-Mart/Albertson's visits with the release of the newest Strange Matter book -- "Mom, can I go with you to buy milk and ice? Yes, I'm only coming along to keep you company!" Conniving, I know, but it got me new books!
Okay, so on to business...SOMETHING ROTTEN tells the story of Skinny Joe Alister (he's so skinny that two strong students at school bet on how many times they can bench press his frail frame) and his little brother Gary, who both happen to love rock collecting. On a trip to the local and famed Fairfield Caverns, Joe wanders into the "forbidden" area of the caves, an old abandoned excavation site that is filled with strange, sparkling crystals. He takes some of the artifacts home to find that there are amoeba-like blob creatures called Deros living inside them, and after the entities break out, Joe, Gary and all their friends have to go around zapping them with light (the Deros' only weakness) in order to save the town from a gooey overtaking, one not unlike the long-missing Fairfield Caverns owner fell victim to years and years prior.
Even though this book marked the beginning of a wonderful few years of reading my favorite middle-grade series, I had no recollection of the story when I started re-reading it. Zero. None. Zilch. It's weird how memories can fade like that. But this lapse didn't stop me from enjoying things. I really like this Strange Matter entry. It starts off with a bang, as you get to follow the brothers through cool descriptions of the Fairfield Caverns, and I'm all about cool descriptions. There are different landmarks, like Fat Man's Squeeze and Headache Rock, a low outcropping that many explorers bump their head on. There's also an underground pool filled with blind lizards and fish. I love details like this! Moving on to the meat of the story, which is when the Deros start to break out of their earthy entombment, there's plenty of great action to keep readers interested. The blob descriptions are well-done, and there's a scene towards the end where the kids see a skeleton inside one of the gelatinous baddies that's really chilling. I just enjoyed the whole setting of this story, all of it taking place in, deep, moodily-lit caves. Something about it just makes things fun.
I think Mr. Engle did a great job with SOMETHING ROTTEN. The plot was tight, the pacing was perfect, and this entry really zones in on what the series is really all about: Non-stop paranormal adventure. Nothing to bog down the energy, no over-complicated threads to bore and confuse the reader. And no typos, at least not any that I could see, which is always a plus!
I give SOMETHING ROTTEN a 4.5 out of 5.