Author: David Almond
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction (with fantasy elements)
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 3-6
Format: ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley
Three adjectives that describe this book: intriguing, fanciful, strange
After reading quite a few gushing reviews of this book, I feel kind of bad about finding it to be so meh. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, but there were a few annoying flaws and I'm not sure it will grab middle grade readers - the intended audience.
Other reviewers have compared the style of this novel to Roald Dahl's work. These comparisons are totally appropriate. It reminded me of some of his shorter works such as George's Marvelous Medicine. Overall the plot was fun and the main character, Stan, was endearing and well-written. While reading, I just kept thinking how much it felt like a movie. The epic amount of narration made me think that David Almond was actually writing this novel as a script in some ways.
And therein lies the problem.
In the first two-thirds of the novel, Almond's use of author interludes was quaint and felt right for the tone of the story. Think Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events or Pseudonymous Bosch in The Name of This Book Is Secret. However, the last third of the novel took this narrative style over the precipice. Almond frequently interrupted the plot's flow with unnecessary asides. For instance, right at the climax of the drama Almond takes an entire page to ask the reader if he should switch to a subplot or continue with the action. Argh! Just tell me the story. But the ultimate example of annoying author intrusions is the way the villain's story is resolved. Rather than write ANY resolution whatsoever, Almond asks the reader, "What do you think should happen?" What a cop-out!!!
My other concern is that one element of the style would not work for the target audience of middle grade readers. Clarence P. Clapp, the villain, has terrible control of the English language. For instance at one point he says, "We must bite our time" and later, "Come to a complete and nutter halt." These misunderstandings of common phrases, and elsewhere his atrocious spelling, demonstrate the character's level of intelligence in a creative way. However, to fully grasp this element, the reader needs a strong command of idioms, phrases, and spelling. A lot of middle grade readers would struggle with this text's complexity.
Bottom line, I think that readers in grades 4-6 who need a challenge would enjoy this novel. It's just not for everyone.