Monday, October 17, 2011

Review - The Orphan of Awkward Falls

I read about The Orphan of Awkward Falls over at and subsequently entered to get an early copy. To my delighted surprise, I received a copy.

This book sounded like a lot of fun for my kids and I just in time for Halloween. It touts a whimsically grotesque villain, an eccentric mad scientist (who just happens to be a young orphan boy), a robot butler, a talking cat and a lot of adventure. The illustrations looked creepy and the premise sounded fun.

The publishers indicate that this book is aimed at 8-12 year old kids. From the first pages of the book, I must adamantly say that age range is WRONG! There is no way I'd want my nearly 8 year old daughter reading this. Even with my 10 and 11 year old sons, I'd be worried that there are segments that are too gruesome, too violent, too graphic.

Am I being an overly protective and highly sensitive parent? Maybe a little, but I don't think I'm overreacting too much when I say this book should have a distinct PG-13 rating for violence and grotesque scenes of horror. I'm open to the idea of gross elements of horror or just creepy scenes or descriptions. But for kids not yet in their teens, let's keep that horror at the level of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books. This book goes a bit too far.

Putting the erroneous age rating aside, this was a pretty fun book. The illustrations were great. Although the placement of the illustrations felt a bit odd…rather than being on the facing page for the scene they described, they were usually a page prior or after and sometimes the illustrations were all at the beginning or end of a chapter and felt disconnected from the scene they were trying to illustrate.

The mysterious plot was intriguing and had me anxiously searching for answers along with the characters. While there were a lot of stereotypical tropes in this northern Canadian town, it served as a vivid backdrop for the adventure. The scenes were tight and fast paced. Even when largely unbelievable, I felt my heart race as the characters struggled to solve the mystery and survive.

There was a disconnect for me in the cheesy and juvenile humor as compared with the gruesome horror and violence in other scenes. It was as though this book couldn't decide whether to be an adult horror book or a creepy kids book. Instead, it tried to straddle the fence by mixing together whimsically funny characters, names and actions alongside violently disturbing attacks and violence. The result felt somewhat schizophrenic.

While I had fun with this story and enjoyed the writing, I can't recommend it to my kids. Due to its very youthful tone, it would be a hard sell for my adult friends who read horror and thrillers. I guess that leaves it as a "teen" book, but I worry that teens might think this book is "too young" for them and prefer to jump up to weightier horror.

Still, if this book finds the right audience, it could be a success. It's got a creative story, solid writing and fun illustrations. I'm just worried that parents (or others) will see the silly images on the cover and pick this up for young readers only to be traumatized and offended. If it were more accurately aimed at an older audience, I could easily recommend this book for its creativity and writing. As it is, I'll have to wait a couple of years and see what my kids think once they're teenagers.

3 out of 5 stars

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