Monday, October 17, 2011

The Orphan of Awkward Falls, by Keith Graves

First published by Chronicle Books, 2011

A boy, Thaddeus – living alone in a dilapidated old mansion with only an ancient robot and an oddball cat for company, conducting strange but brilliant experiments, answering to no one but himself. A girl, Josie – adventurous and curious, recently moved to Awkward Falls and drawn to the old mansion next door. And a grotesque hunchback, Fetid Stenchley – just escaped from the Insane Asylum and heading to a certain mansion where he used to work under the watchful eye of his master, many years before.

What will happen when these three meet? And what could one dilapidated old mansion possibly be hiding? And finally, what will happen when the mansion’s secrets are finally let loose?

This was a grim, gory and immensely readable little story. It is easy to get sucked in and once you’re hooked, the pages fly. There is a great deal of adventure, a bit of sly hilarity (at least for kids) and lots of spooky and gruesome details to keep the enthusiastic reader happy.

I did have a bit of trouble with some of the content – I feel like some of it wasn’t appropriate for the intended age group, there were a few parts where I thought it was just a little bit too sick for kids. I wouldn’t like my own children (if I had them) privy to some of the more violent and macabre scenes. This is not to say that kids shouldn’t read it; but perhaps just exercise some caution when recommending to kids – it’s really dependent on the individual reader.

It looks gorgeous. I had a proof copy, but I have seen the final version and the cover is eye-popping and perfectly captures the content of the book. And although I mainly had unfinished illustrations in my copy, they look like they will be super-gorgeous (in a gruesome kind of way!) as well.

Like I said, it is immensely readable, written in easy English with lots of action and a dose of wit. Scenes are snappy and well-paced. There is a bit of mystery to keep you thinking, lots of creativity and a large amount of fun.

It’s just ... something didn’t work for me. The whole book felt a bit off-balance. I think it was that it tried to be zany and funny in a way that appealed to kids but then having that right next to the violence and scenes that are grisly and even psychologically hideous, it just didn’t sit comfortably. And I think that may alienate some audiences.

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