As a big fan of Stephan Pastis’ acerbic yet contemplative Pearls Before Swine comic strip, I couldn’t wait to read Pastis’ middle-grade Timmy Failure series.
I was in for a treat.
Our protagonist, Timmy Failure, comes from a long line of Fayleures (his ancestors changed the spelling of their name). He lives with his mother and his friend/detective agency partner- a fifteen hundred pound and not-so-inclined-to-work polar bear named Total. Timmy and his polar bear run a detective agency called ‘Total Failure”, and their business aims are global. Now, “Total Failure” is not the easiest business venture to sell in a positive light to folks, but good grief, does Timmy try.
As we quickly learn, Timmy is a seemingly oblivious, obstinate, bizarrely self-assured kid- even though he is a actually a terrible detective, with an unwitting penchant for using words incorrectly. He drives his teacher spare, ignores the romantic advances of the effusive and tangerine-scented Molly Moskins and makes terrible fun of Rollo Tookus, his only real friend at school.
By the second book, though, we learn that there may be more to Timmy then meets the eye. Now living with his mom at his Great-Aunt Colander’s mansion (replete with a dive-bombing lovebird named Torpedo Bob), we discover that Timmy is not as impervious- or immune to emotion- as once thought. Over the course of a school sponsored detective game, we start to see cracks in Timmy’s facade. Perhaps part of why Timmy presents himself as he does- as the smartest, brightest and best detective- is to mask his own fears and insecurities; concerns about his mother and who she dates…and serious worries about love and a certain girl named Corinna Corinna.
Do you need to have read Pearls Before Swine or be familiar Pastis’ work before diving into Timmy Failure? Not necessarily, though I think it helps break into the particular tone of his writing and approach: the substantial wordplay, pun gags, the mixture of hope and futility, the moments of surprising love and warmth, and the utterly compelling oddness of the characters- particularly Timmy and Great-Aunt Colander. I actually wish Colander had made an appearance in book three as I loved her warm interactions with Timmy so much in book two! As for whether or not Total is actually a real polar bear or Timmy’s best imaginary friend…well, I leave that open.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the three books, and gotten some TERRIFIC belly laughs from Timmy’s shenanigans. Book three offers some revelations about Timmy and Corinna Corinna- and leaves room open for more madcap investigations. Readers of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes might especially enjoy this series.