Once upon a time, in a world of good and evil, a descendant of the Revelstoke family discovered he had inherited the power to see inside people and cure their diseases. Alex is a twelve-year-old with no friends and a strange gift. He saw through Jack Perfect Knight’s skin, stared into his throat, and realized he was choking on a hot dog: “He looked like Translucent Man, the see-through plastic anatomy model Alex’s parents gave him for his sixth birthday. He was a full-sized Translucent Man towering over Alex—two frightened eyeballs, a mouth, and a barely chewed hot dog chunk wedged in his windpipe, cutting off his air.”
In Susan McCormick’s The Antidote, fantasy mixes with the agonies of middle school, creating a book that should resonate with kids who don’t sit at the popular table at lunch, as well as parents, doctors, scientists, Mt. Rainier hikers, and everyone who believes that good and evil are perpetually struggling for dominance.
Alex isn’t sure what makes him see through people and he wants to understand his unique abilities even more. He knows the names of diseases, because his parents are doctors and he sometimes reads the New England Journal of Medicine; but seeing through skin to identify a disease is a skill beyond anything they do at the hospital. Alex always dreamed of making a difference in the world, and wants to learn to use his powers correctly. Before his journey is over, Alex is guided by his grandfather, a dog named Valentine, and a blue-haired girl who’d lost both her parents and was living with her aunt.
There’s a lot to like in this book. I care about Alex, the narrator; Valentine, his dog; and Penelope, a girl with no parents. As a former teacher I enjoyed the school scenes and especially the teacher nicknames. The author, a doctor, joins scientific language and imagery in a way I have not encountered before and she makes me realize how advanced some middle school students are today. There a few small editorial glitches but they don’t mar the message. As a reader, you might do a double-take a few times, but an occasional repeated or misplaced word shouldn’t affect your appreciation for the story.
Though I’m not a huge fantasy fan, I bought into the issues in this book as well as the scientific terminology and Alex’s independent struggle to do the right thing. The book gives me a lot of hope about the potential twelve-year-olds have for becoming outstanding citizens.
Take a trip into the world of “what if” meets middle school. The two are not that far apart in the hands of a skillful author like Susan McCormick. I look forward to her next book.