Wednesday, March 16

abandoned: Kid vs. Squid

by Greg van Eekhout 
Bloomsbury  2010 

A kid farmed out to a relative for the summer, a witches head in a box, the lost city of Atlantis, weird characters, weird creatures, the promise of weird adventures...   

This book has all the elements that could and should work for me in a middle grade book and yet I wasn't 20 pages in and already I wanted to jump to the end.  Not jump-to-the-end-because-I'm-excited-to-find-out-how-it-ends but jump-to-the-end-so-I-can-say-I-finished-it-and-move-on-to-something-else. I really did struggle with the fact that I could simply put the book down and move on but felt I was somehow cheating the book out of a promise to read it.

I've talked a little about promise before, the promise of the book (and the author) to the reader, and the reciprocal promise of reader to book.  When starting a book both reader and book enter into a contract that is an agreement that involves emotion, investment, and a willingness to suspend disbelief for a period of time in exchange for a return on that investment.  Most of the time that agreement is silent and in the background – the only time it becomes an issue is when one side fails to keep up their end.

So when a book doesn't work for me to the extent that I simply cannot continue I cannot ignore the fact that the problem is half mine, but only half.  I have read books that I didn't necessarily like or enjoy but nonetheless finished because there was something inherent in the story that at least compelled me to continue. To that end, the book has held up its end by giving me something in return for my time.  But when the book causes me to wonder if there's something wrong with me for not wanting to continue, when the actual phrase "return on investment" pops into my head when considering pushing onward, then I know the fault isn't entirely my own.  Partially, but not entirely. 

I've seen stories with kids getting farmed out by distracted and disinterested parents, but that wasn't it.  I've seen stories of outsider kids suddenly in a otherwise unseen alterna-verse where the adventure requires them to save that day, so that wasn't the problem.  I've seen eccentric relatives, otherworld tricksters, smart detective girl sidekicks... but for whatever reason Kid vs. Squid was like a jello that never set for me.  The ingredients were there but... nothing. 

So I did it, I jumped to the end, confirmed what I suspected would be the ending, imagined everything in between, and let it go.

Then I felt bad.  I felt like I hadn't given the book a fair shake.  Perhaps it was a question of not being in the mood to read (it happens, right?), you know, maybe everything I tried to read would taste like ash at the moment?  So I picked up another middle grade book to see if I wasn't too hasty in my distractability.

And 180 pages into that other book I had to face that it wasn't because I wasn't in a reading mood.

As always, my rule is Read everything and judge for yourself. It isn't a question of right and wrong when it comes to reviews but what's right and wrong for you. Kid vs. Squid just wasn't right for me.
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