Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

I ended up in the emergency room this week doubled over in pain. That’s not figurative language. I was doubled over. It took a few days for the doctor to get me through, but I used my time wisely. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was reading. I read two middle grade novels.

Let’s talk about the book I liked.

Woof: A Bowser and Birdie Mystery by Spencer Quinn will make you giggle while providing some edge-of-the-seat action. The narrator is Bowser, a mixed-breed mutt with a good nose. And even if his off-side narration sometimes goes on a little long, you stick with him.

Set in the Louisiana bayou country, there’s a missing piece of taxidermy, some WWII history, and a puzzle to solve. Birdie is a brave and resourceful girl, but she couldn’t get by without Bowser’s nose and loyalty.

I’ve already bought the next book in the series.

Now, let’s talk about the book I didn’t. I won’t tell you it’s name, but it involves a pretty, mean girl and her used-to-be-friend. Why talk about it at all if I can’t recommend it? Because of what I learned as a writer by reading it to the end.

1. Your antagonist can’t be unrelentingly mean. She (or he) must have some redeeming value, and not just a sad reason for them being what they are.
2. The activities and tone must jive with the setting of the book, both time and place. Both the protagonist and her nemesis were expected to do the family ironing. It takes place in the present. Do people still iron their sheets?
3. The author does a good job of showing the relationship between the protagonist and her grandmother. But when she, inevitably, loses her beloved grandmother, the funeral scene goes on for much too long. Too much time was spent on details that didn’t matter.
4. The author explained things that most readers already know.
5. The ends all tied up to neatly, except one. Who won the talent show?
6. The song titles listed in the book seemed like an odd assortment. Songs can date a book, but they can also date an author. Don’t just use your favorite old tunes. You’re writing this for kids, not for their parents.

The writing was literate, and the plot wasn’t stupid. A few revisions might have made this a book I could name in the review. Hey, there’s a lesson right there.

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