2011 reading: The Beyonders
I am not as consistent as Shelah; I am frankly too lazy to review every book I read. But I want to keep track of Whitney-eligible books that I read this year. So far it’s just one, Brandon Mull’s The Beyonders.
My son loves this book. He’s read it like three times already.
I liked it okay. I can see why my son likes it; it’s got clever magic and an engaging plot. I felt like it was a lot about the adventure, though. Iin a nutshell: boy and girl go to another world through magic portals and get caught up in finding all the syllables of a magic word that is capable of destroying the evil emperor. The protagonist didn’t have a compelling need/hole/empty place that got filled by experiencing the adventure. SPOILER ALERT–Getting back home at the end of the book wasn’t quite enough for me–I wanted there to be another layer, something about the protagonist’s personality that was completed by this adventure.
But I am all about finding non-potty humor books for boys (and yes, it is kind of violent in places. Why do I prefer violence to potty humor?), and this is a great one.
I think that if I do more reviews, which I have avoided, I need to 1-not stress about having them be as comprehensive as a real book review; these are really mostly for my personal reference, and 2-make it clear for the odd person who stumbles upon them whether I’m the best audience for that book. I will tell you up front, I am not the best reader for The Beyonders. But my son, who is in its target audience, adores it.
Whether I’m the best audience matters a great deal, I think, both for my own self-awareness as reviewer/writer, and for anyone who reads these reviews. It’s also a good way to explain things should an author read these reviews: if you’re reading my review, and it’s not as positive as you’d hoped, realize that I’m not the best audience for your book, but someone else out there is, or it wouldn’t have been published.
Every so often I also want to answer this, too: 3-what can I learn from this book as a writer? how would I edit it differently?
What can I learn? I think a compelling hook is a great thing. Entering another world (SPOILER) via hippo mouth grabbed my attention. And the ups and downs of adventuring are great things for young readers. Also, the (spoiler) betrayal towards the end was quite effective, something I didn’t see coming at all, but totally believed in when it happened. Nicely done. Gotta have a betrayal in there someplace. Or a stunning revelation, or something that makes all the pieces come together. It was a great example of the inevitable surprise.
How would I edit differently? Two major things: 1-I’d give each of the two main adventurers some need, some flaw, besides getting home, that would be filled by their adventuring. Possibly you could go with getting home again, but that’s a need that seems to get lost in the adventure. We never get a sense in the middle of the fun of what’s so great about home, what they miss the most. I would either make him more homesick, or preferably give him some emptiness that his adventure restores.
2-There were an awful lot of deus ex machina rescuers: protagonist gets in a pickle, and there’s some cool magic friendly person to help work things out. This happened a lot. I wonder how you could make those same scenes feel less machina-y, and more like the protagonists worked on their own to figure things out.
There’s a great little book called the Hounds of the Morrigan, by Pat O’Shea, that has two kids adventuring. They also run into helpful magical beings, and at first they think their journey is orchestrated by those beings. But in the end, you see that the children were assisted, yes, but did lots of the heavy lifting themselves. I wanted this book to be more like that one, so I could believe in the bravery of the characters more.
But again, I’m not the best audience for this book, and I do think that makes a difference.
Next up: I Don’t Want to Kill You, by Dan Wells, which arrived in the mail today. Looking forward to it. I would be looking forward to it even more if I had not read major, non-warned-about spoilers on a different blog. Sigh. I should have known better than to read on, and I am also guilty of writing spoilers, but I do try to advertise first.
After that I need to get Emily Wing Smith’s Back When You Were Easier to Love.
FTC note: I bought this book.