My 2 Cents on Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game

There is plenty of fantabulous fun to be had in Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game, the fourth entry in the Mr. Lemoncello series by Chris Grabenstein (The Island of Dr. Libris, coauthor of I, Funny with James Patterson). Kyle Keeley, a boy who eats, sleeps, and breathes board games, and his friends enter the All-Star Breakout Game hosted by Mr. Luigi L. Lemoncello, the amusingly kooky gamemaker/bibliophile. The competition, which will be televised on the Kidzapalooza Network, returns to the spectacular library that Mr. Lemoncello erected in his birthplace of Alexandriaville, Ohio. This time, however, it will focus on a new section of the library dubbed the Fictionasium, a whirlwind of virtual reality technology where the contestants will play out immersive stories and figure out how to tackle the challenges and puzzles thrown their way. And, of course, there will be balloons.
Despite being thinner in plot than its predecessors in the series, Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game succeeds in delivering the clever puzzles, endearing characters, and lighthearted humor that made me absolutely enthralled with the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. One of the things I enjoy the most is that all seven of the main contestants from Escape are back in the game for Breakout. Four of them have played in all of Mr. Lemoncello’s contests—the board-game-crazy Kyle, his sarcastic best friend Akimi Hughes, bookworm Sierra Russell, and library nerd Miguel Fernandez.
The other three kids also attempted to solve their way out of Mr. Lemoncello’s library in the first book. Charles Chiltington, a devious and ingratiating snob with a penchant for long words and fancy suits and ties, was the primary antagonist of Escape but got pushed into a secondary role for the second and third books, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics and Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race, respectively. Haley Daley, a cheerleader who once feigned a ditsy-blond exterior to mask her sharp mind, was part of the winning team in Escape and used her newfound fame to become a TV actress and support her financially struggling family. Andrew Peckleman, a humorless geek with glasses as thick as goggles, was bullied by Charles into stealing clues from Kyle’s team, got kicked out of the game as a result, and turned into somewhat of a frenemy towards Kyle for Library Olympics and Library Race. Now, in Breakout, it’s great to finally see Charles, Haley, and Andrew head back into the library with Kyle, Akimi, Sierra, and Miguel, and brave new puzzles alongside a roster of new competitors (some of them are named after readers who solved the secret puzzle that Grabenstein included in Library Race).
The brainteasers, riddles, and rebuses are smart and entertaining; there’s even a Highlights-esque hidden picture puzzle, which I had loved solving back when I used to read the magazine. I never get tired of Mr. Lemoncello’s eccentrically effervescent mannerisms, burp-squeaking banana shoes, or references and allusions that he makes to a sundry range of top-notch books. It’s a blast to follow the kids through the Fictionasium’s VR rooms with the holographic projections, the motion-capture suits, the smell-a-vision tech introduced back in Library Olympics that artificially creates the sweetest aromas or the most abhorrent stenches, and the Narrative Drive computer system that creates an assortment of VR environments so the contestants can engage in stories akin to the missions of an RPG (role-playing game), as Kyle once points out. And the windows, sliding glass doors, and mirrors that allow entrance to the rooms are a nice homage to an essay written by children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, which you can read in the author’s notes at the end of Breakout.
Dampening my enjoyment of Breakout is the fact that it isn’t very strong story-wise in comparison to the previous three books. The success of Escape‘s narration hinges on its ability to make me feel compelled to follow Kyle’s team as they race to piece together the answers from all the puzzles and uncover the secret exit passage out of the library before Charles’s team. As for Library Olympics and Library Race, Kyle and his pals not only have to focus on the games but also devote a portion of their puzzle-deciphering skills toward solving mysteries and unraveling the machinations of those who connive to ruin Mr. Lemoncello. Bits and pieces of those elements are somewhat present in Breakout, but the stakes here aren’t nearly as high, leaving a few parts feeling sluggish.
There were hints in Library Race and Library Olympics for why Charles, who loves boasting the much vaunted but erroneous claim that Chiltingtons never lose, goes about his life with his cutthroat philosophy of the world being populated by winners and losers. In Breakout, a bigger spotlight shines on his background and makes him more of a sympathetic villain. In general this book makes a point of concentrating multiple times on the message of treating people with compassion, even when we dislike them or disagree with their opinions, even if we perceive them as our foes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Sierra quoted this line from the epitome of sympathy and understanding, Atticus Finch, the heroic father and lawyer in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Such an utterly relevant message is worth fostering in a world riddled with bigotry and prejudice.
With a cast of charming kids cracking nutty old Mr. Lemoncello’s engaging puzzles in a story that promotes the value of empathy, Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game is another overall satisfying adventure through the amazible library.
Windup score: 85/100

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