3.5 stars for story and the execution and appeal to its target audience 2.5 stars for editing
Ariadne Kane's middle-grade debut, the first of a series,3.5 stars for story and the execution and appeal to its target audience 2.5 stars for editing
Ariadne Kane's middle-grade debut, the first of a series, hits all the right notes: the prose is solid, the plot well-constructed. The dialogue between the kids feels like 12-year-olds talking, and the parents' dialogue is believable as well. No mean feat. It's one of the things I grouse about in YA and MG-- 12-year-olds who talk and act more like they're eight (I'm looking at YOU, Fablehaven) or 16 and talk and act more like they're twelve (I'm looking at YOU, Michael Vey), either because the writer cannot write dialogue for the ages of the characters or because he/she wants to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
Caleb Morin and his family move to South Carolina from their home in Arizona, having inherited an ancient house from a relative. The house has a reputation for being haunted. Of course the ancient ancestor, a former pirate, inhabits the place, and of course he stays there to scare away people who might be after the treasure that is rumored to be hidden somewhere in a labyrinth of caves under the island. Caleb was born with an extra finger. Of course this is going to get him bullied in his new school. And of course the extra finger marks him as a witch. A witch with multiple abilities. Abilities he discovers and is able to use within a two-week period. This was my only beef. So far there's nothing Caleb can't do; all he needs is a little practice. The only way there will be a conflict here will be if Caleb, still a newbie, somehow makes a mistake. The problem won't be with not having the ability. Supported by a group of friends who, in a sly nod to convention from Kane, acknowledge that they're the "trusty band of misfits (shades of The Goonies)," Caleb must find his family's treasure and one of its powerful talismans before the evil Crevan family, in league with the evil school principal, do.
Despite a predictable plotline (not a complaint--all books about a kid who discovers he's got magical powers are going to have similar plot points), I found myself caring about the characters and wanting to play chess with Lefty and learn swordplay from Fitz. I found myself caring about the dangers awaiting the Morin family as the evil capitalist and a rogue witch both conspire to bring down the family fortunes by whatever means necessary.
Now, the editing:
Aside from some punctuation thingies: Multiple uses of "you're" for "your" while using them correctly other places. Bugs me because it's fairly easy to proofread for this stuff--just say "you are" out loud and see if it makes sense in your sentence.
Also, there's no such place as Tuscan, Arizona. And this isn't a typo--both times one of the Morins, who came from there, refer to Tucson, it's spelled this way. A search on Kindle for the correct spelling turned up zero results. That kind of sloppiness has no excuse. This isn't some obscure little city in the Middle East somewhere.
Also-also: incorrect use of 'tisn't--a contraction for "it isn't"--used in place of isn't? Kane may be using Latinate syntax because Lefty is from another century, so she might get a pass on this, but one gets the feeling she isn't making an informed stylistic choice here. And misusing "crony," which actually means confidant, buddy, pal, associate, comrade, partner. It's used to refer to one of the popular girls' hangers-on who holds an umbrella over the girl's head during a rainstorm, getting soaked herself. A boss hiring or promoting a friend or a friend's offspring over a more qualified applicant would be an example of "cronyism." The word(s) she was looking for were more along the lines of sycophant, flunky, toady, lackey, drudge, go-fer. "Cronies" are equals, "lackeys" are not.
I know my students would enjoy this story. And I know they look forward to new series because, in the words of one student, "when I read a series, I always know what I'm going to read next and I don't have to always be looking for new books." However, I'm having a hard time reconciling the mistakes. Students will: 1) notice, laugh, and continue to write correctly regardless; or they will 2)Not notice until they make the same mistake in their own writing and wail, "But it was written that way in a book!" when the teacher circles it in red on their essay.
Finally, a middle-grade book that doesn't talk down to its audience and an author who cares a great deal about the quality of her writing. Palacio alsFinally, a middle-grade book that doesn't talk down to its audience and an author who cares a great deal about the quality of her writing. Palacio also did her homework concerning the genetic anomalies August suffers.
Aside from the use of "whisper-screamed" (wtf - is "amble-ran" next?) and some overuse of exclamation marks,the prose is solid (Palacio knows to use possessives with gerunds, yay!), and, despite a lack of subtlety in the message, the similarity of the voices of the varying narrators, the lack of character shadings, and the obvious emotional manipulation, I'm giving this book four stars.
Because, while the messages are obvious -- treat people how you'd like to be treated, don't judge people by appearance alone -- and the similarity to books like Freak the Mighty, it's obviously a message young people aren't getting. Kids are still being bullied-- for being "different," for being gay, for wearing black eyeliner. Too many are validating themselves by what people think of them and committing suicide over breakups with boy/girl friends. Kids need to meet kids like Auggie in books, if for no other reason than to to counter-balance so much of the mean-spirited degradation that often passes for entertainment these days....more
3.5 stars 5 stars for the concept, 3 for not fulfilling expectations.
Levine would have had to make this book at least 50-100 pages longer if she wanted3.5 stars 5 stars for the concept, 3 for not fulfilling expectations.
Levine would have had to make this book at least 50-100 pages longer if she wanted to include more about the Harlem Renaissance, which would have put the book out of the range of her usual audience in regards to length. But I wish she had anyway.
Dave's parents are both dead. His perfect brother has gone to live with an uncle, but no family members want him. He is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys. There he finds cruelty and kindness, ostracism and friendship. And after sneaking out one night, he also finds jazz music and black friends, most notably a young girl about his age named Irma Lee. The HHB sits at the border of NYC's Harlem neighborhood. It is the 1920's, during the Harlem Renaissance, and Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and W. E. B. Du Bois are hanging out at the home of his new friend (into whose salon he more or less stumbles one night), whose mother is one of the grandes dames of Harlem society.
My problem with the book is that it was pitched as "orphaned Jewish boy meets the Harlem Renaissance and that makes his incarceration at the orphanage almost bearable," suggesting there would be emphasis on the art and culture of Harlem in the 1920's. But most of the action takes place inside the orphanage--only two forays into Irma Lee's neighborhood are portrayed in the book. That was disappointing. Dave's world is transformed by art in other ways, but to return to my original gripe, that's not how the book is pitched.
There are some lovely moments. After Dave gets a beating from the headmaster Irma Lee fixes up the basement of her home, unbeknownst to her mother, so Dave can come live there. The art teacher who comes to the orphanage tells Dave he has a gift. After one of the boys' arm is broken by the headmaster, Dave decides the friendships and alliances formed in the orphanage will have to take priority over his new friendships formed among Harlem's elite. His new friends from outside the orphanage rally around him and the other boys and get the director fired.
At its center, the book is about how Dave overcomes the pain of rejection by his family and is transformed by art and friendship.
Great idea, lovely theme, not enough jazz. Will still recommend it to my students because Levine is a careful writer and her characters and plots really do come alive. My 11-year-old self would have loved it....more
Love makes everything real. Love also requires sacrifice and pain. Such a profound message for a children's story, but that's what's so beautiful abouLove makes everything real. Love also requires sacrifice and pain. Such a profound message for a children's story, but that's what's so beautiful about it....more
Is it about encouraging children to try new things, or are the darker forces at work? Is it in fact a warning about propaganda, sort of a 1984 for chiIs it about encouraging children to try new things, or are the darker forces at work? Is it in fact a warning about propaganda, sort of a 1984 for children?
How cool is it that a children's book even raises such questions? ...more