Book Review: The Wonderlings by Mira Bartok

The Wonderling – Mira Bartok (Candlewick Press, 2017)

I didn’t finish reading this book. A few short chapters in, I realized that I was most definitely not the target audience and I simply wasn’t being grabbed by what was happening on the page. That said, I do feel like I can recommend it because Karissa ages 8 – 12 would have loved this book.

Arthur is an orphan groundling – a sort of hybrid animal-human – living under the terrible rule of Miss Carbunkle in a fortress-like orphanage. He is known only as Number 13, shy and quiet and painfully lonely. He befriends a new orphan named Trinket and together they hatch a plan to escape the orphanage and discover where they truly belong.

This is a fantastical, magical, over-the-top type of story that kids who enjoy fairy tales and animal stories will likely love. There are lots of cliches (the orphanage bullies, Miss Carbunkle’s unrelenting evil) that kept me as an adult reader from feeling really immersed in the world Bartok creates, but there’s also lots of creativity and a younger reader would be less likely to notice some of the tropes. There seems to be me to be enough action and mystery to keep a reader engaged, although it clearly didn’t work for me.

I had an Advanced Reader’s Copy of the book but it appears that the final edition will have illustrations, something I think will be a great addition. Bartok really does create a unique little world and it could definitely add a lot to the book to have that visual aspect. If you know a young dreamer/reader, they just might find a lot to enjoy with The Wonderling


What I Read – June 2017

This felt like kind of a strange reading month for me. I started off by reading Alexie’s memoir and Verghese’ back-to-back, while also working my way through Chesterton’s autobiography. While I enjoyed each one, it also felt like a lot of male experiences and I was itching for some feminine perspective to balance it out. Something that hasn’t really happened to me before. I was eager to read Allende, an author I’ve also heard highly of but haven’t read before. A ferry ride and a night away on my own was the perfect opportunity. Then some Agatha Christie and I was ready to finish tackling Chesterton (reviews to come).

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown and Company, 2017)

The Tennis Partner – Abraham Verghese (Harper Collins, 1998)

The Japanese Lover – Isabel Allende (Atria Paperback, 2015)

Autobiography – G.K. Chesterton (Hamish Hamilton, 1986)


And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (Cardinal Editions, 1960)

Didn’t Finish:

Gork, the Teenage Dragon – Gabe Hudson (Knopf, 2017)

Currently Reading:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill

Book Review: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage Dragon – Gabe Hudson (Knopf, 2017)

A couple of disclaimers first:

This book will be released on July 11th by Knopf. I got an Advanced Reading Copy, with no expectation of anything in return.

I did not finish reading this book. I made it to page 92/chapter 12 and gave up.

I knew I wasn’t the target audience of this novel. I don’t read much fantasy and I’m not into “quirky” books. I’m not necessarily against them but quirkiness alone is not enough to hold me. That said, I’m open to new things and the blurbs compared it to Harry Potter and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Plus, it’s about dragons and I loved The Hobbit as a kid.

In the first chapter, our narrator insults Tolkien and The Hobbit in particular, so we we didn’t get off to a great start.

This book is about very advanced dragons. They travel in spaceships, conquering other planets with their advanced technology and fearsome dragon might. Our narrator is Gork, who is sixteen, a recent graduate of Warwings Academy and not a particularly impressive specimen of dragonhood.

So here’s what bugged me about this book and why I gave up on it:

  • There’s so much information thrown at you. Gork knows his reader is potentially unfamiliar with the dragon world and lifestyle so he just tosses out jargon and explanation, one after the other, with no attempt to really craft it into a story. Since the blurb compares it to Harry Potter, I couldn’t help make that comparison in the negative. J.K. Rowling did some amazing world-building but one of the smart things she did is she told the story through Harry’s eyes. And Harry was also a newcomer to the wizarding world and so the information and names and timelines were slowly introduced to the reader. Gork reads more like the author came up with a bunch of stuff he thought sounded cool and wanted to add it all in. In the first 92 pages we are told about nanorobots, AI technology, alternate dimensions, time travel, future prophecies, teleportation…just to name a few. And through all of this, Gork isn’t really even doing anything. He’s in a space ship (sentient, somehow) with his best friend (who is a dragon robot), just spewing facts at us.
  • I became increasingly bothered by the sexism of the storyline. Upon graduating from Warwings Academy, Gork must ask a female dragon to be his queen. When she accepts, they’ll jet off into space together, she’ll lay eggs, and then they’ll find a new planet to conquer. Gork has his sights set on Runcita, who is clearly out of his league. If she says no, then he has to be a slave forever. Primarily, this seems like a really dumb way to run a society. That’s a lot of pressure at sixteen-years-old. Especially when, as Gork tells us, dragons can live hundreds of years. It also doesn’t explain how their home planet functions if only slaves get left behind but maybe that’s expanded on later on. My problem was the way Gork focuses on Runcita as purely an object. A thing with which to advance his own life and to satisfy his physical urges. Yes, he’s a teenage male; yes, they’re dragons. But they’re also obviously intelligent and Gork is narrating this from the future. The more he talked, the more I disliked him. (Also, would dragons really have nipples?)
  • Which brings me to my final point: Gork is really unlikeable. He’s a bad narrator, he’s sexist and violent (ok, again, dragon) and his motivations are unclear. I wasn’t rooting for him and I didn’t care what happened to him. So I stopped reading.

There may be a lot of people out there who like this book. Perhaps readers who delve into fantasy/science fiction more often than me will find this book as funny as it thinks itself to be. I wanted to like it, given its entirely unique premise but there just wasn’t enough there for me.


Not a Book Review (Well, okay, it kind of is)

Sometimes picking a book based on its interesting title and fun cover works out well. Really great, in fact. Sometimes it doesn’t. This time it was of the second variety.

Grab On To Me Tightly As If I Knew The Way by Bryan Charles

This isn’t a book review because I didn’t finish reading the book. I don’t do that very often – stop in the middle and never return – but sometimes I just feel like I’m wasting my time. My first sign that this novel might not be what I hoped was the language. Now, here’s the thing: although I very, very, rarely swear in real life and I don’t like hearing swear words from those around me, I don’t necessarily mind it in fiction. I have written fiction where a character swears. I take swearing in fiction seriously; I believe it has to be authentic to the character and it has to express something of that person that can’t be expressed in any other way. I don’t believe in swearing for swearing’s sake or for shock value. Because I don’t go around throwing down F-bombs in my own life, I try and think carefully whether or not it’s something necessary in fiction. Sometimes, I think, it is. (You may disagree with me here. That’s fair.) What I don’t like and what will turn me off a story is superfluous swearing. And when you use one of the most offensive swear words there is in the first ten pages of your novel, I don’t see what purpose it has and I don’t want to keep reading. In order to not judge the book unfairly though, I did keep reading. I got about halfway through. The writing itself is not bad. I did get confused about some of the time frame – what I thought was a continuous scene turned out to be two separate days – but I trust that many of those problems would have been explained had I kept reading. The musical references and the early 1990s setting were interesting and I particularly enjoyed how the author would slip in lyrics from songs that our narrator was listening to/thinking of/playing on his guitar. The novel is written in first person which leads to a few stream-of-consciousness style parts which, though never my favourite, were decently well done. Over all though the novel had this Generation X trying to be Holden Caulfield feel that just wasn’t working for me. The best I can say is that this book felt self-indulgent. It was a hipster in novel form – dropping names and judging me for not knowing them. Throwing out swear words to see if my jaw drops. Every character surrounding our narrator seemed like a caricature (at least to the halfway point of the book) and the narrator himself lacked motivation. Most of the book seems to take place in his head and yet even there he reveals very little of what he actually thinks, how he feels. The novel never broke through that teenage boy tough guy veneer, never showed who this kid really was. I’ve hung around guys like that and the joy of being an adult now is that I don’t have to hang around them anymore. So I closed the book and took it back to the library.