Charles's Reviews > The League of Unexceptional Children

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari
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Oct 05, 2015

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bookshelves: children-s, mystery, stat_2, reviewed

Stuff I Read – The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari Review

This book caught me a bit by surprise. On one level, it's a book that takes aim at spy tropes and turns them on their head, poking fun at the idea that the best and brightest would be best suited for being the least memorable. The book focuses on Jonathan and Shelly, two kids who are constantly overlooked. They are ignored, unheard. And that is where the book is the most interesting and also the most troubling, because while it is nice to see a work break from the rather cliché message of everyone is extraordinary, it also kind of reinforces the erasure of these characters, kind of claiming that their power is in the fact that they are overlooked. And that, while certainly interesting, didn't quite work as well as I would have liked.

The action of the book is fun, though, completely ridiculous and over the top, with the highest spy organization of the land one run by children. The reasoning behind it makes a certain amount of sense, and there is a lot of mileage that the book gets out of the gags, the tropes being twisted, the differences between Jonathan and Shelly and their Very Exceptional British peers. The book is obviously critiquing the idea that every child must be extraordinary to be valuable. That every child needs to get straight A's and be good at sports and socially confident and a hundred different things. I do think teaching children that they are all exceptional is a fairly pointless endeavor, because it does little to teach them how to fail, how to lose. That's one thing that Jonathan and Shelley excel at.

I also like the characters themselves. Jonathan and Shelley are both a bit strange but very memorable with some deep-set issues that stem from their insecurities. The extent that they are unexceptional is a bit hard to swallow, but that they are ignored is easy to relate to. Most people are overlooked, are taught to conform to some ideal, to try and aspire to be a certain kind of better. And this book certainly twists that, because while Jonathan and Shelly start out hoping to reach that ideal, they slowly come to see their unique value. It's just a bit…well, conflicting that the story posits their erasure as a good thing. I get showing that these kids need to stop working toward some ideal that doesn't suit them, that doesn't value them, but the League only seems a small step up from that, exploiting their invisibility to mostly benefit those very people who don't see either of the main characters as worthy of remembering.

But it's possible that the series will give Jonathan and Shelly another option, or will get them to the place where people emphasize seeing everyone rather than taking advantage of their own marginalization. Because what people should realize is hat Jonathan and Shelly are unique and memorable and interesting. That their greatest asset is not that they are overlooked but that they are capable and have a particular kind of strength. As it is, it's an interesting book, and an entertaining one, but not one that I was wholly comfortable with. A 6/10 for me.
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Reading Progress

October 5, 2015 – Started Reading
October 5, 2015 – Shelved
October 5, 2015 – Shelved as: children-s
October 5, 2015 – Shelved as: mystery
October 5, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_2
October 5, 2015 –
page 240
100.0% "Well that was rather cute. A nice use of main characters who really don't shine, but are interesting all the same."
October 5, 2015 – Finished Reading
November 10, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

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