Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unexpected Applause: The Fourth Wish

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!


  1. I like hearing the combination of opinions. I'd love to see that be something you do in the future again, with opinions from your son. He's four years older than my son, but it's always good to have that basis for a book intended for a younger audience. Plus, I enjoy reading kid books right along with him, so your take on it is also valuable.

  2. I came over here from Shannon's site. It's refreshing to read a man's perspective on the whole writing/publishing scene. I wish you success in your work.

  3. I actually starting highlighting things in "The House on the Corner" on my Kindle but then I wasn't sure how to get it from the Kindle to the Internet.

    Then I found out the other day the highlights were showing up in Amazon somewhere:

    Basically, anything we couldn’t get it in the truck or the back of the station wagon, we didn’t bring withRead more at location 95

    [Delete IT]

    will, too, have friends!” said Ruth.Read more at location 136

    [Delete the first comma]

    that Mom had left laying on the floor.Read more at location 298

    [Laying or lying?]

    see that the wall paper wasn't actually on the walls. It was attached to someRead more at location 330

    [wallpaper is one word]

    If I'd known that they were showing up I would have kept going. Really why it's good to read the manual first.

  4. Be glad you ARE mentally thirty years past the target audience. Missing words? Don't you it when that happens? I mean really...

  5. I'm laughing at Alex's comment. What a smartass. I like your segments on these books. They are well thought out and well written.

  6. This was a really-well-thought-out review. I'm always worried about grammar and punctuation, as I kind of make it up as I go along and then claim poetic license when people corner me.

    Are we all comfortable with Grumpy having some kind of secret website where he posts our editing mistakes? And how much, Grumpy, would you charge for copyediting a book before it came out? (Seriously?)

    Alex is a smartass. But we need more of those because if there's one thing the Internet is lacking, it's smartassitude. And really I just wanted to say "ass." A lot.

    Andrew! I didn't get your book up in time on the Indie Gift List. I'm going to try to post it today, which I know is late, but I can offer you the consolation prize of being the next Reader Of The Month if you'd like, once Grumpy has served his term honorably.

  7. And now my unsolicited pitch for Heather's contest and my own nonwinnitude:

    If you like winning, here's an easy one for you: Heather is having a contest:

    To write a Xmas story in 500 words or less. You can enter until the 31st. Right now I'm winning, which isn't fair because I didn't even follow the rules. Which means pretty much any story you write is going to win. You could write "Christmas" 500 times in a row and beat me, and probably that would win some sort of literary award because we live in a stupid postmodern age. But I'm serious: Go enter! When people hold contests, we should enter, and everyone's got one Christmas story in them. Here, I'll get you started:

    1. An elderly woman finds a mysterious package under her Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. She lives alone, and it's signed "From Santa."

    2. A spaceship lands in Bethlehem on the night of the first Christmas.

    3. Two boxers in the locker room talk about the fight they just had and their plans for Christmas.

    Come on, get writing!

  8. Indeed, sir. The painful part of reading over my now published work is seeing the occasional typo. Luckily, they are damn few, but I agree it does detract from the reading.

  9. I enjoyed this, especially the second view from your son. Sometimes it's hard to tell from a review if a MG book would be a great gift when you're not the target audience.

  10. Shannon: I'm sure I'll do more of that when I have other appropriate books and when I have time to have him give it a read before I'm posting. Although, I may just do updates, later, once he (or my daughter) has read the book.

    walk2write: Thank you so much! Glad to have you!

    Grumpy: Yes, the "it" needs to come out.

    The comma is correct.

    Laying. I think. I'm not going back to check it, now, because I spent a lot of time with the laying vs lying thing when I was doing the writing, and I'm pretty sure I got the correct one in there. Unless I didn't.

    The space in wallpaper was either my tendency to include random spaces as I'm typing or my spell checker telling me that "wallpaper" is wrong. When I get around to updating my Kindle version, I'll check it.

    Alex: Yes, actually, do. I often wonder they go.

    Michael: Well, I'm glad you do, because they're hard to write. I mean, I thought writing the one for Monarch was difficult, but this one proved even more difficult.
    I do wish I had more time to read, though, so that I could do them more than just once a month.

    Briane: Yeah, poetic license only goes so far. Except that some people believe you shouldn't have to have a license at all. But, to me, that's like not requiring a hunting license. Pretty soon, there would be no grammar left at all. Then, where would we be?

    I don't think any of us could actually afford to pay him to do it. It's better to just let him grump his way through as a way of getting to prove how grumpy he is. I think he's happier that way.

    Ooh! Reader of the Month! That would be swell...

    If I get time to do any extra writing, I'll try to get something together. As it is, I'm alread a story behind this month, so I'm not thinking I'm likely to get to it (even though I want to (I have a "Christmas on the Corner" story poking around in my brain)).

    ABftS: You know, I don't know that it detracts for the reader as much as it does for the author. For one thing, especially with punctuation, people don't know enough about it to notice, or, if they do, they assume the writer must be right. But it bothers me when I find something in my own writing; it's just such a "D'oh!" moment!

    Sarah P: Yeah, I agree. Most MG/YA material doesn't rise above being MG/YA material, so it can be hard to look at it through those eyes.