Ok, I don't like the reader's brutal Queens accent and extremely poor Greek pronunciation. But I suck it up, because the stories are terrific and the...moreOk, I don't like the reader's brutal Queens accent and extremely poor Greek pronunciation. But I suck it up, because the stories are terrific and the kids LOVE them. (less)
I just finished this book, sitting on the front porch drinking lemon soda and giggling out loud. Summer is so great.
The Willoughbys is a tour de force...moreI just finished this book, sitting on the front porch drinking lemon soda and giggling out loud. Summer is so great.
The Willoughbys is a tour de force. In this short novel (174 pages, and that's including the glossary and bibliography), the estimable and thought-provoking Lois Lowry presents her own idea of a nice activity for a fine summer afternoon: she fires up the grill and roasts the living crap out of some of the most ludicrous and unpalatable tropes of classic children's literature.
* She takes the baby left on the doorstep, shears its angelic curls, and pawns it off on a neighbor. * Her brave orphans are neither orphans, nor brave (at least at first). * The long-lost relative is not particularly missed. * The Swiss are by and large insufferable.
At least none of the characters manage to convince a wheelchair-bound pal to get up and walk again. That's one plot nugget too awful to be rehabilitated, even with barbecue sauce and hickory smoke.
And what emerges from the smoke, caramelized and juicy, is a story as lovable and appealing as it is wry and twisted.
The Willoughby children (there are four of them, plus two more that they pick up along the way), who are old-fashioned yet unsentimental, remind me of the kids in the Nurse Matilda stories. Or the Penderwicks. Roald Dahl will also come to mind. The children themselves frequently cite classic children's literature. But despite all these references and echoes - some explicit, others deliberately implied, and at least one sniffed out by a perSnickety fellow author - The Willoughbys stands on its own.
Will there be parents who recoil from the Willoughby children, who wish their (hilariously) detestable parents dead? "I'm wondering," Jane said, "would a crocodile eat a person in one gulp? Or in chunks?" Or who recoil from the Willoughby parents, who are indeed detestable (though hilariously so)? "Two tourists were eaten in huge gulps but it was not sad at all because they were French." I hope not. Because, you know, "hilarious" means "just joking, you dolts!"
My kids are off with their aunties and uncles splashing in rivers and having scavenger hunts in the woods. But when they get back, I am reading this book to them as soon as possible. And as long as Bob and I don't run off on a vacation of our own and try to sell the house out from under them, I won't worry about them getting any ideas!(less)
Skulduggery Pleasant is Derek Landy's first book for children, and the second is already in the can, which is a Very Good Thing. His characters are br...moreSkulduggery Pleasant is Derek Landy's first book for children, and the second is already in the can, which is a Very Good Thing. His characters are broadly drawn, meaty, yet precise - like Chinese calligraphy done with a big fat brush dripping with ink. The dialogue is snappy, with some fun deconstructionist bits; and the plot is just twisty enough: not even the very close listener Mr. Four could find any holes.
But the real revelation here is Skulduggery Pleasant himself, a several-hundred-year-old living skeleton working as a freelance detective. He's urbane. He's competent. He's noble. He knows it. And his wit is very, very, very dry. He puts me in mind of James Bond, if Clive Owen had gotten the job. Or Indiana Jones, perhaps as played by Hugh Grant.
It's fairly unusual in contemporary children's literature to find a leading man per se: that is, an adult male that carries the book. Adult males are villains (say, Voldemort), or guides (Dumbledore), or surrogate fathers who aren't around much either (Sirius Black), but it's usually the eleven-year-old orphan who is the center of attention. Skulduggery Pleasant is written from the point of view of its main female character, an eleven-year-old girl named Stephanie Edgely, but it's Skul who drives the action. He's more than a mere guide for Stephanie. It's interesting, and I think it's because Derek Landy's background is in screenwriting rather than children's literature. My guess is that nobody told him.
Which is not to say that Stephanie falls by the wayside. More than your usual preternaturally resourceful girl protagonist, she is written from the inside out, and feels very real, though a bit devoid of background. Even her parents, bit players for sure, are people who you feel you kind of know.
A word about the audio edition - GET THE AUDIO EDITION. Like the Lemony Snicket books read by Tim Curry, it has original music: deep, jazzy bass, thumps of percussion, fingersnaps and distant screams; and, also like those books, it is read by a MASTER of vocal characterization.
Rupert Degas is apparently a voice superstar in the UK, with everything from Bob the Builder to Haruki Murakami on his resume, but this is the first time I've heard him. He reads an Irish tween girl as convincingly as an adult woman from London, and he has a vast repertoire of deep, hoarse, whispery, creaky, etc. that he gleefully applies to everyone else in the book. The cackling, gibbering, transforming Troll under Westminster Bridge should win this guy an Audie all by itself. We've played that chapter "about a hundred and sixty-seven times, and it KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME"!
When we finished the audio book this afternoon, my two boys and I were left craving more Skulduggery, and there it was! a bonus track featuring an interview with the man himself: relaxed, egotistical, coy, and dead-on funny. Can't wait for the sequel.(less)