Friday, November 16, 2007

Lots of Good Books...

So, I was going to review The Mysterious Benedict Society, but I crashed my car, and while I was embroiled in that insanity, I began reading the Neddiad...

Then I was going to review the Neddiad, but I crashed our other car!!! Two cars!!! And while I was embroiled in *that* insanity, I began reading the Canning Season (although the hardback cover is tons better than the paperback you can see on Amazon)...

So now, here I sit, (in my rental car, duh) with THREE new books I want to talk about... even though I started this blog primarily because I couldn't FIND enough new books worth reading/talking about.


But here's the thing-- I've recently gotten some flack for "overthinking" kidlit, and now I'm pondering my methods of reviewing-- my way of talking about children's books online. I'm wondering whether I shouldn't just tell you, in less thinky ways, what I REALLY think of these books. What I like and don't.

So I will attempt to do that right now.

All three of these books are GOOD, though none are "GREAT" (In the true sense of greatness. None of them will save the world. None are Narniastic). But they are all very very very good books.

All are funny and silly in different ways. All offer us endearing and odd and memorable characters. All are old-fashioned in one way or another. All are (however much the authors might protest) literary. Careful with language. Clever. But the books are different from one another.

In short:

Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)-- I LOVE the cover, the puzzles, the orphanhood, the setting, the precociousness of the main character. If it fails at all it's just because it goes on too long for a middle grade book. It takes too long for things to get where they're going. I got just a teensy bit bored (sad to say), but the book is wonderfully written and reminds me a little of John Bellairs book.

The Neddiad (Daniel Pinkwater):

I love the tone. LOVE the tone. The humor, which is subtle and perfect here (quirky humor is hot right now, and often teeters over into random/dumb. But NOT this one. Never dumb or gratuitous). I love how this book wanders. I love that it is set in Hollywood in the fifties (the world my mom is from). But The Neddiad wraps up a little too fast. I found myself fingering the last 4 pages and thinking, "How is this gonna end in FOUR PAGES?) However-- this book stands up to a Dahl comparison, and that's pretty rare. High praise coming from me. There is something of Dahl in this book. It surprises quietly. (editor's note. Extrmem abuse of the word "Quirky" has been modified. Please forgive...)

The Canning Season (Polly Horvath):

This book is WEIRD. And it doesn't need a bunch of obviously weird weirdity. It just IS weird. Because it's human, and humans are weird.

In addition to being weird, humans are also mean, and so this book has meanness in it too. Delicious meanness. A reliable (and brilliant and fabulous) source tells me that Canadian authors (HOrvath is one such) are more subversive than American kidlitters. They can handle the mean...

Set in Maine in the present-day, but in the creepy old home of two spinsters (Tilly and Penpen), surrounded by lots of hungry bears, with no TV/phone, etc. It appeals to me (though it might not to you) in part because it is the only middle grade book I ever read with the word F*ck in it. Not to mention cancer and cigarettes and mothers who cut off their own heads and drunk driving and all kinds of things you usually only find in "edgy YA" There is a "mystery" aspect to the book I like a lot-- the main character (Ratchet) has a deformity , referred to (awesomely) as "That Thing". There is a little bit of trashiness in this book too. It's a GOOD book, and it comes close to Great, but I fear a lot of parents won't be able to hang with the F*ck.

Did I manage to avoid thinking these books too hard?

Perhaps, but I think I overthought the overthinking...


I yam what I yam...


Erin said...

I like these sort of reviews! :)

I agree with what you said about Mysterious Benedict Society...teensy bit bored, but I still liked it.

You've made me want to read The Neddiad!

Tempest in a Teapot said...

I don't believe in over-analysis, especially when it comes to kidlit. Themes, word choice, nuance and detail are things authors should consider when writing, and I think they're all meant to be appreciated.

The Neddiad and The Canning Season both sound like good reads. I'm always game for a little Maine-related creepiness.

literaticat said...

I think it might be in your nature to overthink. Just one of the negative effects of too much education. It'll wear off!

I agree with everything except the number of times you used the word "quirky" to describe the Neddiad.

QUIRKY sounds like a redheaded girl with lollipops in her ponytail, wearing a tutu and bumblebee wings, who chews overlarge pieces of gum and skips rope on the dining room table. It sounds all over the place, random, clunky, knowing, clever.

The Neddiad, on the other hand, is clear as glass and not trying to be anything other than what it is.

Laurel said...

Hmmmm. I think this is a good distinction to make and I hereby take back my use of the overused "quirky". Furthermore I will use quirk with much less abandon.

Shall I say... the Neddiad is not... expected. It is... surprising?

I am trying to avoid the I word that means about as much as the Q word.

literaticat said...

you are cute. redacting the q word from everyday speech is a good idea, i will try to follow your lead.

and maybe if everyone does so, it will start to mean something again?

Carl said...

Don't worry about over-analyzing. I like to read what other people say about books--sometimes at great length. The Neddiad sounds great. Real Pinkwater quirkyness. (Yes, overused word, but that describes his stuff!)
My daughter attends a school for academically gifted. After looking up The Mysterious Benedict Society, should I be worried???!!!