My latest Unexpected Applause piece is The Fourth Wish by Elizabeth Varadan. Along with my own views on the book, I am going to add in my younger son's (middle child), since he fits the target audience. And he's having a different experience with the book than I did, so I think it will provide a more rounded picture. Just a note about my son (for those of you that may have missed me talking about this stuff previously): he's the most well-read 10-year-old I've ever known (or heard of). It's not just that he reads a lot (he does), but he's very eclectic in his reading choices. He's read Kafka (how many adults can say that?), Dumas, and RL Stevenson (more Stevenson than me, actually). He's also read Eddings, Douglas Adams, and (currently) Zahn. All of that to say that his view is worthwhile not just because he's in the target audience but because he has a good spread of prior reading material to base it on.
Let's deal with the technical stuff first. Grammar and editing. Fun. But it wasn't too bad. Especially for a piece that wasn't done professionally. The biggest (real) issue is that there are places where there's a word missing here and there. Those always throw me. [I can't complain about this too much, though, as I know of at least one spot in The House on the Corner where I have a missing word (actually, it's just a missing letter, but it changes the word. So far, no one else seems to have noticed).] It can be a hard job to catch all of those things in your own work, and, overall, it's not too bad. There are some comma errors, especially when the author chose to begin a sentence with a conjunction and follow it immediately with a comma when there wasn't a dependent clause present, i.e. "But, I wanted to." When there is just the one independent clause following a conjunction, a comma should not be there. This is one of those pet peeves I have, so I found those annoying. Still, as the only real (consistent) grammar error in the book, I can't complain about that one, either (I mean, more than I am). The only other issue is the author's use of question marks in many places when the sentence is not interrogative. I actually asked her about these, and she said they were purposeful, to show the inflection of the speaker, but I found them more confusing than anything. [I'm waiting to see how my son reacts to them as they are more prominent toward the end of the book, and he is still shy of half.] If I was grading the book (which I sort of am), I'd give it a B on its technical merits, which is pretty good, I'd say.
The story is where I ran into some problems. But, then, it may just be a function of being about 30 years past the target audience. I was unable to engage with the story and the characters. My son, however, is fully engaged. This is one of those stories where the status quo becomes disturbed, and the characters spend the rest of the story trying to put things back the way they were. Possibly, while learning a lesson or two along the way. Mostly about appreciating what you have or being satisfied with your circumstances because they're not as bad as they could be. The vehicle for this is wishes...
I'll make an example of the magic show at the beginning of the book. Once the first wish is made, I found the magic show to be predictable and cliche, but my son loved it. And I don't really want to give any of it away, so I'll leave it at that.
I suppose I'll just say what didn't work for me:
The second wish seemed to just arbitrarily fail. Yes, the wish was supposed to fail so that things good get more messed up, but, really, it wasn't significantly different from wish that fixed everything, so that bothered me.
Daisy's Doughnuts. The whole place just seemed to be yanked out of the 50s, so it just didn't seem right to me. Plus, the kids, inexplicably, bring Christmas gifts to "Daisy;" although, they don't seem to have any special relationship with her that would warrant that.
Speaking of Christmas, the revelation that it is Christmas comes quite a bit farther into the book than I was comfortable with. It took me by surprise, and I had to readjust my view of what was going on in the story.
There's no real motivation for several of the primary characters. At least, none that I could fathom. Especially for Mrs. Seraphina.
And what did work for me:
The relationship between Arthur and Cory and the way they interact with Melanie (even if there wasn't a reason behind the whole "Scorpion Queen" thing (sorry, but that's the kind of nickname you want to know where it came from)).
Melanie's diary and her collection of postcards from her dad.
The struggle of a single mom trying to raise her kids while she's off working all the time and the pressure that puts on the oldest child.
Mostly, though, the story just never came together for me. Not that it was a struggle to read (I mean, there were no feelings of dread any time I stepped near the book like there was with that Turtledove novel I talked about a while back); it wasn't. I just felt like I was back where I started from when I finished and that nothing significant had happened. Now, that may not actually be true if there is to be a sequel, but, as it is, nothing significant happened.
But! See, my son, he likes the book. When I gave it to him, I just told him to read the first few chapters to see what he thought about it. I sort of expected him to give the book back to me and tell me he didn't like it. But, instead, when I asked him about it, he said, "I like it. You're not... you're not going to take it back, are you?" Because it's my book, and he thought I was only letting him read three chapters. It made me laugh. But the book is laying next to his bed, and, I'm sure he'd be finished with it already if he wasn't reading two other books when I gave it to him.
All of that to get to the point:
I think this is probably an above average middle grade book as long as you're one of those middle graders. From an adult perspective, I see it as a pretty typical story, and it didn't thrill me, but my son thinks it's a lot of fun. I'd certainly recommend it for anyone in the 8-12 range. As far as I can tell, it ought to appeal fairly equally to boys and girls. It has a female lead, but my son is enjoying it just fine, so I don't think the central female character is too off-putting for boys.
For a comprehensive grade, I'd give it a C+ to a B-. Currently, I'm leaning toward the C+, but that could change based on my son's final evaluation. Heck, if my daughter likes it, it could go up to a B. At any rate, if you have or know kids that like to read and are in the age range, it's a book worth checking out. If nothing else, it should be fun for them.
And then you can listen to them go on about how to go about getting 5 ka-billion doughnuts for themselves!