This post contains spoilers!
Nightmare by Willo Davis Roberts
Breath by Donna Jo Napoli
I couldn’t finish this one, but that’s OK. To each her own. I give a book 50 pages to offer me some sense of its world and characters. If I’m on the fence about whether I like it, I give it 50 more pages to convince me to stay on. If I don’t like it, I send the book back to wherever it came from. This is why I love the library; you can get a good sense of your tastes without paying. There are so many books I want to try in my life, and if I don’t like them I don’t bother.
The plot of Nightmare is compelling enough, to its credit. Nick is a teen who has three bad things happen to him in the first two chapters. His girlfriend dumps him, his car collides into a man who had just jumped off a bridge, and his dog is shot by a home intruder. The dog was fine, the man was not, and the ex-girlfriend was probably a bitch anyway.
Teens might like this book for the my-life-sucks-and-anyone-who-cares-about-me-is-annoying tone. We’ve all been there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to read about it. The characters got on my nerves, mostly Nick. He complained about his step-father, Steve, though with good cause. Steve, a cop, was almost completely insensitive to Nick’s experience with the man who died on the hood of Nick’s car merely days after the horrible event. Steve insisted in passive-aggressive ways that Nick should be concerned about cleaning out the garage than a human’s life. Um, OK. Yeah, that’ll cure those night terrors. Aside from constant complaining about Steve, Nick annoyed me at how peeved he was with his neighbour, Daisy. I got the sense that Nick’s only thoughts about her were “My ex-girlfriend once said that Daisy, my neighbour who’s the same age as me, dresses a few years her junior which makes her totally uncool to like as a person. Also, she cares about my well-being and makes the time to stalk me from her window, which ended up saving my life several times. What a little pest.” I wasn’t buying it, so I hope that at some point in the novel Nick realizes Daisy is the best thing about his life. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that if I’m no longer invested in the story. I made it to page 78.
I started reading on July 20 after hearing about the shootings in Aurora, CO. I especially wasn’t feeling this book when I read how Nick wanted to go to a movie, “see if anything good was playing at the Tri-Plex there. Preferably something violent and heavy, with no girls in it, just guys slaughtering each other.” Yeah, it didn’t sit well that weekend. It probably wouldn’t sit well if I read it today, either Having published Nightmare in 1989, Roberts certainly didn’t mean any ill will with this passage. It was just bad timing on my part.
If you like murder mysteries, I might recommend this novel. I actually do wish to know whether the suicidal guy jumped or was pushed. More so, I want to know what kind of bug has been living in Steve’s ass. It would be even more satisfying if the guy had been pushed off the bridge, and Steve was somehow involved with it because, according to Nick, he’s kind of a bad person. If anyone has read this book, do tell me!
I’m surprised to have found this in the Juvenile section instead of Teen. Wherever it’s placed on a library shelf, it’s obviously meant for mature readers—not necessarily those over 13—because the first chapter features a lot of imagery of a horrified man hitting the wind shield of the car you’re driving. Not all children’s books feature happy images, something all parents should be aware of. You can’t protect your little one from the terrors of life, especially if they read, but they do need to read so they can have an understanding of life itself. Death happens in fiction as much as real life, and I’ve found this is especially true in mysteries.
I’ll still count this book towards my children’s lit challenge because I put the effort into finding out about this book, and it fits with the theme of this post. I might check out other titles by Ms. Roberts because she has apparently written a lot. Some of her other books might be a success, especially a non-mystery with a female, child protagonist as opposed to what I just read.
Breath was easier to read in terms of writing style and plot consistency. Besides, I always prefer historical fiction over mysteries or general fiction.
Not only does our main character see death, but his family openly speculates his early expiration. Growing up with cystic fibrosis, Salz knows how precious his life is. Gladly, this isn’t all there is to the book. A plague scare is sweeping through the entire town, and the novel becomes somewhat of a historic mystery as Salz’s family tries to find out the cause of the disease.
The story is based on the legend of the pied piper, which one might not realize until the last few chapters. I love this. As a reader, I appreciate being swept up in a story instead of being beaten over the head with a theme. There’s a lot going on in terms of relationships and history and I’m not left wanting—except for a slight desire to know whether Pater Frederick evaporated into thin air.
It’s funny how the more I like a book, the less I have to say about it. This is why I could never be a book critic; I’m only wordy when I’m angry. As fun a job this would be, my health would surely decline by how often I’d have to force my high blood pressure. I loved this book well enough, and am excited to explore Donna Jo Napoli down the road of my reading adventure.
I do have things to say about the cover of Breath. It features The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. As much as I love the macabre, the more I looked at this painting the more disturbed I was. I wondered, “Is this suitable for a children’s novel?” Thankfully, the library mislabeled this novel and stuck it in the juvenile section (it’s supposed to be in the teen section). To top that off, when I tried to check it out the book wasn’t in the system. What gives, library? *slow clap*
Take a look at this picture. (Click the image to expand.)
The picture’s bottom half is featured on the cover. The skeletons aren’t just symbols of death. They’re performing murder before our eyes. Animals, who are dying as well, torment the people. Covers are powerful things, and this historic piece of artwork says more about the novel than the blurred image of a child’s mouth on the top half of the cover. It’s a fine representation: vagueness over an expanding death toll brought by possibly supernatural causes.
Still, I prefer that cover to this one:
With these two novels, children learn there’s always more to a death; a murder, a born illness, a spreading disease, and punishment from an invisible force are all part of an investigation. In all investigations, there are lessons and myths. In all lessons and myths, there are stories.
16 titles down, 36 to go.
Days left: 37.