This is one weird book. Unfortunately, not weird in a good way.
This is not a book that had been recommended by anyone, or was on my to-read list, or even one I'd heard of. Lately, I've been trying to stick with my vast collection of unread books (which currently number more than 100), or books from one of my book groups, or even one of the hundreds on my Goodreads list. But this morning I was volunteering in the library and while I was shelving, Story Time just caught my eye in the Young Adult section (there's a funny little drawing of a demon on the cover). I thought I'd be spontaneous and started it right away. Sadly, it was not an undiscovered treasure, but a disappointment.
This book has a really interesting premise -- George, 11, and Kate, 13, have been accepted into the prestigious Whittaker Academy magnet school, which boasts that its students score highest on standardized tests than any other school in the country. George is eager to attend, since he doesn't fit in at the middle school -- he's smarter and smaller than everyone else in his grade. Kate is reluctant since she's a shoo-in for the lead in the school play, but agrees to go with him.
The school, which is in the basement of the an enormous historic city library, is sort of a cross between 1984 and Lemony Snicket's school from hell, The Austere Academy. In fact, I'd say this book was definitely influenced by The Series of Unfortunate Events -- the Whittaker family that administers the school are so horrible and surreal, they don't make sense, and there's no accountability by say, law enforcement or child protective services. But this book lacks the sly wit and clever wordplay of the Snicket series, and Kate and George aren't as endearing as the tragically funny Baudelaire siblings.
The book is labeled as a satirical, comedic look at the education and the growing emphasis on standardized test scoring, as the students at Whittaker aren't taught to learn or think, just to do well on the test. But this part of the story is quickly bypassed in favor of a plot development in which volumes of the rare book collection are harboring mischievous and murderous demons. Things continue to get weirder and more confusing as Kate and George explore rumors of mysterious deaths in the library. Then there are even more confusing and undeveloped plot elements, such as Kate's missing father, her agoraphobic mother, a librarian who speaks only in nursery rhymes, and a military death-ray. The whole thing gets wrapped up, sort of, during a disastrous visit from the First Lady.
I didn't find this book particularly amusing -- most of the characters are really nasty and mean-spirited, the subplots are too undeveloped, like the demons/ghosts -- and there were some violent and grotesque deaths. I found it just confusing, unsatisfying and oddly unsettling. There's just too much stuff packed into this story, and none of it is resolved very well. It's more than 400 pages, and it's not a difficult read, but I feel like I've wasted my time. bviously, there's a reason I hadn't heard of this book. Next time I'll disregard the clever artwork and stick with my to-read list.