Maybe you’ve been to that small wonder of the state of Delaware a time or two. Perhaps you even reside there. But you’ve never been to the one as crafted by M.T. Anderson in Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware. This Delaware is “a realm of wonders and terrors, a land that time forgot, or chose specifically not to remember.” (98) Filled with majestic mountains, deep forests, icy bluffs and frigid cliffs, this land is indeed a challenge for our three intrepid high school heroes: Jasper Dash, Katie Mulligan and Lily Gefelt. You may remember these three as the stars of Whales On Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen.
As the Flame Pits of Delaware opens, the reader finds that Jasper has joined his local Stare Eyes league, a competitive sport based around who can stare the longest at the other person without blinking. Jasper’s team is on the way to becoming state champions but they must face their final opponents, the formidable Delaware Stare Eyes team.
During the competition, Jasper receives a telepathic communication from his old friend Dragan Pghlick. It is a cry for help. All the while, Katie observes the Delaware Stare Eyes team trying to sell some precious treasures to the local museum. These Stare Eyes champions are clearly not what they appear to be. Jasper soon deduces that they are part of a group that has overrun the lost monastery of Vbngoom located in Delaware. This monastery is home to his friend Dragan and also the source of the famous flame pits that can bequeath awesome powers on the monks there.
Jasper, Katie, and Lily are soon on their way to Dover, Delaware where they intend to locate and save Vbngoom. The way ahead is fraught with peril as the three are stalked by secret agents, chased by dinosaurs, and tangled up in an eldritch demon-spawn. They eventually find the monastery and must come face to face with Jasper’s oldest and most faithful foe.
Younger readers will appreciate the sense of adventure throughout the book. Intelligent children and adults will enjoy the immense amount of wit that Anderson has embedded in the text. The character of Jasper Dash , for example, is a sincere character based on 1950’s comics. He cannot fathom the laughter of his Stare Eyes teammates when he shows up in the locker room “wearing a space-age uniform involving tubing and silver sparkles” (32). His out of touch earnestness creates comedy all through the novel.
I would recommend Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware to advanced readers ages 9+. Themes: friendship, the strangeness of the familiar, double identities, heroism, good vs. evil.