July: Bad Machinery, by John Allison

John Allison’s Bad Machinery follows on the heels of his brilliant Scary Go Round, which ran for seven years of (largely) understated English surrealism and fantasy. Bad Machinery stays in the same universe (and in the West Yorkshire city of Tackleford), with a few beloved characters still around, but shifts its focus down a
generation to the twelve-year-old set. The girls (bright Shauna, impulsive Charlotte and troublemaker Mildred) and the boys (shy Jack, ambitious Linton and good-hearted Sonny) engage in a friendly rivalry to solve mysteries and right wrongs. Obligingly, Tackleford is full of that sort of thing spirits, monsters, trolls and magic pencils abound.
Moving from the teens and twenty-somethings of Scary Go Round to the children of Bad Machinery lets Allison give his natural gift for dialogue full rein. His cast of smart, guileless kids all have distinctive voices and a sharp phrasing which was SGR’s hallmark. Awkward relationships are as engaging as monster hunting when rendered in in his colourful, expressive style.
Violence: Some bullying, some cartoonish monster-fighting. Nothing serious.
Sexualized Violence: None.
Gender: The girls (who have roughly equal time, perhaps a little more, with the boys) are pro-active, clever and irrepressible. They are distinctively female without being stereotyped.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passes near-constantly.
Minorities: Linton and his family (who are black) are the only significant non-white characters.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: Apart from the occasional bullying scenes, I can’t think of anything.
Review by Sean Halsey