Monday, June 30, 2008

Two out of three ain't bad...

Two good reviews and one not-so-good, all in the juvenile fantasy genre...

The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child by Michael Buckley: Ah, more Sisters Grimm! At the end of Book 2, Sabrina was on the trail of her parents' kidnapper. Book 3 opens right when Book 2 ended. Puck is injured for much of the book (he cracks me up, so I missed him), the Jabberwocky is rampaging and the sword that can kill him has been destroyed, and Uncle Jake shows up, with a penchant for doing things the easy, magical way. Anyone who made it through season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will not be excited about a "magic is addictive" theme, but the nuances here are really well done. Granny Relda says there is always a price for magic, and also that there is value in doing things the hard way (Sabrina's arm healing in a cast is a reminder of her mistake; magically healing it erases that lesson). Uncle Jake laughs off these concerns and continues to point his wand for the littlest thing. The resolution is breathtaking, but leaves plenty to explore in future books. A fun subplot is Mayor Charming running for re-election. An excellent entry in the series.

The Sisters Grimm: Once Upon A Crime by Michael Buckley: For the first time since moving in with Granny Relda, the girls return to New York City to search for Faerie, a community of Everafters. They need to take an injured Puck to his own people for healing. They find a scattered, hostile group of Everafters, led by King Oberon (kind of a jerk) and Queen Titania (erratic and crazy). Oberon is murdered, throwing the community into chaos and roping the Grimms into investigating. Sabrina, who had decided to quit the family business, is shocked to learn that her mother was involved with the Everafters. I thought the Wall Street Pirates and the Fairy Godfathers were hilarious, and I'll have to pick up #5 and #6!

A couple of notes on the Sisters Grimm series: First, I've read complaints that Sabrina is annoying. Well, yeah, but she's also a completely believable pubescent girl, so she doesn't bother me that much. Second, I read a negative review that complained about the portrayal of the orphanage, the foster families, and the social worker assigned to the girls. Okay, this one I can see. In the world of fairy tales, step-parents, orphanages, foster parents--they all get short shrift because kids surviving difficult situations are more heroic, and if they had a nice foster family, they might never have gotten into adventures worth documenting. Sabrina got herself and her sister out of numerous awful situations, which explains her resourcefulness, her mistrust of Granny, then the Everafters, and her strong desire to get her parents back and her life back to normal. I guess I see the negative portrayal here as part of the story, I just wanted to mention the issue. Here's my review of Book One and Book Two.

Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixies Song by Holly Black and Tony diTerlizzi: I zipped through The Spiderwick Chronicles ages ago. I loved the beautiful little hardbacks with lovely illustrations, old-fashioned chapter titles, and the premise of kids coming across a book called A Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You and then exploring a world of fairies. There were a couple of sections that still stand out in my mind as such disturbing examples of cruel treatment of animals (the cat, the nursing cow) that I might well excise those pages with a razor blade before letting Lilah read them. Or before I re-read them, for that matter. I also felt they could easily have been a single book, but the beautiful little books have an old-fashioned feel and it didn't bother me that much. I picked up The Nixie's Song at Target, and boy, do I feel I was tricked out of that $10.95. The production values are the same; gorgeous, gorgeous little book. But there is NO story here. It took me less than an hour to read. The book is 162 pages long. 24 of those pages are full-page illustrations, and many more pages have smaller pictures that cut the text by up to 2/3. That would be fine if there were a compelling story told, but there's not. Laurie comes to live with Nick's family when her mom marries Nick's dad. Nick resents losing his room (he has to share his brother's room to give Laurie her own space) and thinks Laurie is weird, which she is. She's like a two-dimensional Luna Lovegood, without any of the nuances of that character. She loves her copy of Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide, and goes out looking for fairies. Nick is just angry, then for no apparent reason, trails after Laurie. They find an injured Nixie, then a rampaging giant. They have to figure out how to stop the giant. I ordinarily love meta-stories and self-referential touches, but a trip to a reading by Holly Black and Tony diTerlizzi just felt like it was taking up space. This book is the first of three, and the whole thing smacked of the publisher or the authors saying, "Hey! Let's see how many books that take 10 minutes to write we can get people to buy by throwing the name "Spiderwick" on them and making them pretty!" One more note to parents is that the language in this seems inappropriate for the 9-12 crowd it targets. One character calls another "lard-a**" and "cr*p" and "a**" are prevalent. Maybe I'm more prudish than I thought, but I found it a bit much, and completely unnecessary.

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