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How to Be a Hero on Earth 5

by Rob Payne

The conclusion of How to Be a Hero on Earth 5 is set on the Isle of Skye, beneath a remote, ruined castle that overlooks the place I spent the first four years of my life. It’s a weird coincidence, but one that’s oddly in keeping with this strange and very funny book.

In How to Be a Hero on Earth 5, Toronto author Rob Payne applies the hip dialogue and eccentric characterizations of his three novels for adults to young adult fiction.John Fitzgerald is a Canadian teen who gets sent over to England to visit some boring relatives who send him knitted things for his birthday. On the way, he passes through a wrinkle in space and ends up in an alternate parallel world, Earth 5, where his father doesn’t recognize him and Columbus discovered Australia. Almost immediately, he is caught in a mysterious plot to destroy his own world and, with five other “non-dimensionals,” must follow a trail of cryptic clues that lead him around Britain to the ruined castle and, hopefully, home.

Payne’s tale moves at a cracking pace and is enriched by some wonderfully vivid imagery — soggy french fries are “as limp as dead rats’ tails” and one character has body odour like “three-day-old roadkill.” Neither John nor the reader know much about what is going on as John and the others’ fears occasionally become reality, but the inspired outlandishness of the situations and the interestingly bizarre yet believable cast of characters keep the pages turning.

How to Be a Hero on Earth 5 is about alternate possibilities, both on a global and a personal scale. As the story progresses, John comes to realize that his two seemingly different fathers are only separated by a single minor decision earlier in life. Payne has written the first in what is certain to be a popular series of science fiction adventures for younger teens.