Barnabas Bigfoot: A Close Shave

Resource links, Volume 17, Number 3 (2011)

Barnabas Bigfoot: A Close Shave is the first volume in a new series by much-loved Edmonton-area author Marty Chan. The premise is that sasquatches really do exist, gracefully hiding from — and cleaning up after — “baldlaces” (humans) in the world’s mountain ranges. When, on a dare, a young sasquatch reveals himself to some humans camping near his home, he sets in motion a chain of events that may put his entire clan at risk.

This is a light-hearted, quick-paced adventure story with enough chases, traps, escapes, and nefarious bad guys to satisfy any reader. There are also lots of squishy, gross details to under­score the physical comedy and reinforce the fish-out-of-water motif. Chan manages the story well, offering a reading experience that works on several levels and keeping plot interest high without giving up character development, lan­guage play, or moments of touching beauty be­tween father and son.

Barnabas is a loveable character whom read­ers are sure to identify with. Although he is a sasquatch and lives in a unique society, Barnabas feels just as self-conscious as and argues with his parents just as much as any human kid. The peer-pressure situations that set the plot in motion should also feel readily identifiable. The story ends with a dramatic cliff hanger that is certain to have readers looking forward to the next book in the series.

Barnabas Bigfoot: A Close Shave is likely to be a hit with a wide audience and will make a versatile independent novel for the elementary classroom.

Thematic Links: Sasquatch; Adventure Stories
Leslie Vermeer

CM Magazine, January 13, 2012 (Vol XV111, number 18)

excerpt:
“Barnabas, you must be sweating under that costume. Take it off.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“If you don’t take it off the fur protestors are going to find you and give you a paint bath.”
“I mean I can’t take it off.”
“The joke’s over. Stop pretending to be a sasquatch,” she said. “Take off the mask.” She moved towards me and reached for my beard.
“No. Don’t. Please.”
“Is it because you’re naked under the costume? I promise I won’t look.”
Should I tell this baldface the truth? Could I trust her? She had trusted me with the truth about her freckles, and I needed an ally in this baldface world. I took a deep breath and told my secret: “I am a sasquatch.”
Jamie laughed. “Are you insane? You’re just a geek with too much time on his hands.”
“It’s the hairy truth.”
She shook her head. “You’re a super hairy class clown.”
There had to be some way to get her to believe me.
“Pull my hair,” I said, thrusting my fur towards her.
“I know this joke. It’s a lame version of pull my finger,” she said.
“Please, pull my hair,” I said.
“Whatever.” She reached up, grabbed my chin hair and yanked. Ow. Did it ever hurt!

Barnabas Bigfoot is a typical sasquatch kid who enjoys picking berries, exploring and hanging out in the cave with his family. He is a sweet character, a general all-around nice guy with one problem — his feet are way too small, and he has to hide them with camouflaged boots so he won’t be ridiculed. He spends a lot of time with the Hairyson girls who always tease him and make trouble. One of the ways they make trouble is by spying on the ‘baldfaces,’ humans who are camping nearby. When the girls accidentally reveal themselves, Barnabas steps in to throw their pursuers off the trail. He is then captured by a crazy scientist who wants to study him in order to find a formula for hair growth. Barnabas escapes and goes on the lam in a mall in a classic fish-out-of-water scenario. Barnabas tries to blend in with the help of a girl called Jamie who shaves his face and hands and finds clothes to cover him up. Then they try to outwit mall security and the crazy scientist to return to the mountains of British Columbia.

The best element of Barnabas Bigfoot is the dialogue, which is smart, fun and snappy. The sasquatch colloquialisms (Hairy armpits!) are imaginative and believable. Barnabas is sympathetic character, and author Marty Chan successfully imagined what a young sasquatch might be concerned about, how he might think and how he relates to the world and the people in it. Barnabas really comes alive through his dialogue and his internal first person dialogue.

The main weakness of Barnabas Bigfoot is that, at times, it drags. Some of the scenes go on for too long and become tedious, a bit problematic in a fairly short book. Chan misses a lot of opportunities to be funny and to really turn this into a madcap comedy adventure. A lot more of the scenes could have been played up for laughs, and the story, humour and characters would have benefited by taking the comedy right over the top. It seems like this novel has a funny core which has been shackled throughout the book but is absolutely dying to be let loose to run free. Barnabas is a strong enough character to play out a farce while still remaining likeable and believable.

The novel uses the sasquatch theme to effectively explore a lot of themes. It has an environmental message which is quite subtle. For example, when Jamie explains to Barnabas about money, he asks why her people don’t just gather and make what they need. It also has a message of tolerance, illustrating that all kids have weird things about themselves that embarrassed them (Jamie and her freckles, Barnabas and his small feet) and that these things are cultural and not inherently good or bad. Again, this issue is handled deftly, and it not obviously inserted.

Barnabas Bigfoot is also an effective regional story, and it creates a great setting, both in the sasquatch mountain home and in the ‘wilds’ of the mall. I think there is enough adventure to capture the attention of kids and enough content for them to get something out of the book besides the obvious sasquatch appeal.
The cover for this book is a real eyesore. With a ‘funny’ font, a neon colour scheme, a cartoonish drawing and a chase scene all crammed together, there is way too much going on. I wouldn’t mention this except that I found it particularly indicative of the confusion within the book. The cover design is trying to do everything at the same time, and this reflects the different elements of the story which are also fighting each other and the central lack of commitment to a particular vision.

Barnabas Bigfoot ends with an almost literal cliffhanger, a clear set-up for a sequel. While there is nothing wrong with making it clear that the story is continued in another book, there isn’t much of a conclusion here. Chan could have cut out a lot of filler earlier on, added some complexity to the plot and had a story that was better contained for one books while still saving material for the future. I found the ending unsatisfying and also quite dark, which was not in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the book.

Recommended with reservations.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.