Thursday, September 24, 2009

Story Time by Edward Bloor


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.

16 comments:

  1. Guess what book I WON'T be adding to my tbr list...that sounds awful.

    I'm not big on judging books solely by the cover. I do admit that covers capture my attention, but I like to have reviews or recommendations before grabbing them.

    PS - I just started reading The House with a clock in its Walls. I needed something light and Halloweenish since I've been writing nonstop for 5 days and haven't been reading anything at all.

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  2. What amazes me is how many good reviews this book got! Of course the cover has lots of good blurbs, but when I checked B&N.com, there was only one mediocre review, from SLJ. Goodreads was very mixed. Maybe I'm getting pickier. It was like a messy first draft -- I feel like a broken record (or a skipping CD -- 21st century!) -- this book needed a better editor, how did it get published?

    The House With a Clock in Its Walls is definitely Halloweenish, but I don't know about light. It's pretty creepy, but I did love it. I reread it this year and it held up well. There were only 3 in the series when I was a kid, I think there are more but some were written by a different author, which doesn't usually bode well.

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  3. What do you mean by not light? By light, I just meant not dealing with sad or heavy subjects. I want something to creep me out and make me feel autumnish. This seemed like a good one.

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  4. Well, it is sort of macabre and gothic. Of course, you're the person who does musical vlogs starring Death and Baby Death!! So it shouldn't be too creepy or disturbing for you.

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  5. I love goth macabre stuff! Like Edward Gorey. I almost read one of his Amphigorey volumes instead of this book but decided I needed more of a novel than a collection of stories.

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  6. I actually liked Story Time. Should I admit this here? It came out during the big "No child left behind" debate and was viewed as a commentary on that situation. Plus the added demon element was great. I'm sorry you didn't like it.

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  7. Did you review it, Andrea? I'd love to hear the other side of the debate.

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  8. I just feel like the author was trying to do so much that it got overwhelming. I do think the stress on standardized testing would be a great topic for a kid's or YA book -- it just seemed to get lost in the shuffle here. I'd love to see what Robert Cormier or Andrew Clements would have to say about it, they both write such great school stories.

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  9. No, I read it before the book blog but I might do a re-read?.

    I don't know. Maybe because I'm such a big Lemony Snicket fan, that's why I liked it. I read it right after I got out of library school and No Child Left Behind was such a big topic at the time that my reading of the standardized testing part was heavily influence by those discussions.
    But I will agree that it doesn't read as advertised since it deviates into the demon mystery pretty early on.

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  10. I wasn't a fan of Lemony Snickets at all. I read the first four books before I gave up on the series. :(

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  11. See you have to push past those to after the Vile Village and then it gets much better, less formulaic.

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  12. Which one is that? The last one I read had someone getting chopped up in a woodchopper...

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  13. That was Miserable Mill. The Vile Village is number 7. But even #6, The Ersatz Elevator, has a surprise ending.

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  14. I really liked the Ersatz Elevator, I think it's my favorite in the series. I love how Daniel Handler uses such great vocabulary -- because of this series, my girls know the meanings of ersatz, lachrymose, and penultimate, which will prove helpful when it comes time for them to take the SAT. Hee hee!

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  15. Well, sometimes reading a book just because of cover art does work out but sadly not in this case. Oh well.

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  16. Some times it does work. I loved this book.

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