Chris Smith (text) and Kenneth Anderson (illustrator), Frankie Best Hates Quests, Penguin Random House, April 2022, 400 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780241522110
Frankie Best hates quests. And being called Princess, silly kids’ games about Spingle the Elf, being stuck at her Grandpa’s place with her nerdy brother Joel, and being away from her phone for too long. So, being forced to go on a quest with her annoying brother and the overly cheerful knelf (no, that’s not a typo), Garryn, to rescue her Grandpa from the gnoblins who kidnapped him, in a strange land where her phone doesn’t work at all is pretty much the worst thing Frankie can imagine.
Frankie Best Hates Quests is a hilarious parody of fantasy adventure games and movies and books, and messes with the common tropes and themes in all the best ways. Between the chatty, omniscient narrator who plays with the reader’s expectations, and the inserts of Frankie’s own journal pages and reflections on their quest… sorry, adventure… I was kept giggling the whole way through.
There is a lot of clever wordplay that is pitched nicely at an audience of about nine to thirteen, without being condescending to more sophisticated readers. The text itself is clear and well-spaced, and broken up by illustrations, Frankie’s occasional journal pages, and bestiary descriptions and pictures of the weird and funny creatures of Parallelia, all of which keep the story visually appealing and add to the humour. The chatty nature of the narration invites readers to be in on the jokes and twists on expectations. Older readers, particularly fantasy fans and gamers with an interest in popular culture, will have a fun time picking up on the references, but it’s kept broad enough that readers don’t need to be versed in any specific fandom to get a good laugh out of it.
Frankie is cranky and more than a little surly as she’s pushed out of her comfort zone, first by her parents when they drop Frankie and Joel at their Grandpa’s house, and then when she finds herself in a strange land trying to rescue their Grandpa from the gnoblins. She’s caught up in her social media friendship group, and in trying to fit in, and one of the biggest underlying themes of the book is the suggestion that maybe it won’t be the worst thing ever to put down the phone and smell the bacon and egg breakfast roll sometimes.
Frankie comes to remember what she used to love, before she became more worried about what was and wasn’t cool, and there could be some interesting points there to discuss with young readers. There are also some interesting parallels with Frankie and Joel’s parents, and the fractures between the generations, that would be interesting to discuss and explore further for any reader wanting to dig below the comical surface.
Reviewed by Emily Clarke