I’ll be surprised if this book doesn’t end up on many “best of” lists at the end of the year and on at least a few award shortlists. The buzz surrounding it has been tremendous and not without good reason. Part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, part Mysterious Benedict Society, it is full of enough puzzles and literary allusions to satisfy even the biggest book-nerd. (Perhaps one reason it’s been so widely beloved in the kid-litosphere. And I say that as the biggest book-nerd of them all.)
You can find longer reviews of this one in book blogs all over so I’ll keep it short. Briefly, the town of Alexandriaville has been without a library for 12 years. To celebrate the opening of the new library built by world-famous game creator Mr. Lemoncello (and Alexandriaville native), a contest is devised for twelve 12 year olds. The first one to find his way out of the library is the winner. But to find his way out the winner has to decipher clues that have been planted all over the library. The kids quickly pair off into teams to solve the puzzle. The teams are led by Kyle, an average nice guy kind of kid who loves games and tolerates books, and Charles Chiltington, the evil rich kid who is wiling to win at any cost.
Ruth has a new saying these days. She will very seriously say “I don’t like_______” about something. “I don’t like this soup.” “I don’t like this book.” And then when you ask why she’ll say “I LOVE IT!” I’d have to say the opposite about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. I did like it. But I just didn’t LOVE it.
That might be partly due to hype. By the time we read it I had heard it compared to every great kid’s book of this century and last. I did really like the puzzles and the literary references were fun (although mostly missed by my two boys, both of whom have had a lot of books read to them or read themselves). I wonder if the literary references are one of those things adults think are cool but kids miss. I liked imagining the library and all it’s bells and whistles (although I’m enough of a Luddite to keep thinking that it would have been nice if the coolness of the library were due primarily to the books and not to the all the cool technology).
I found myself wishing that the characters weren’t quite so much caricatures. You have the khaki-wearing evil preppy rich kid. The cheerleader who pretends to be ditzy but is smart. The shy bookworm. And some of the plot seemed thin. Primarily, I kept wondering if there has been no library in this town for these kids’ whole lives then how come so many of them basically have the DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM MEMORIZED. It seemed odd that the argument was how important libraries are, yet, in this town with no library, all the kids had been able to grow up unusually into libraries and books WITHOUT A LIBRARY.
However, those points could be overlooked. Lots of children’s literature is full of stock characters. The thing that bothered me most though was the way the adult characters dealt with Charles Chiltington. He’s a nasty little suck-up of a kid. But the adults seem to be as against him as the other kids are. Mr Lemoncello clearly doesn’t like him and is rooting for Kyle’s team. It’s not so much that I felt sorry for him but that I thought this added to the one-dimensional aspect of the book. Yes, it’s fun. But I think the author could have achieved something a little deeper if his characters had developed more or if we could have seen that Charles wasn’t just pure evil in a polo shirt. Think about Dumbledore seeing the good in Draco or Mr. Benedict trying to reach out to S.Q. In this book it’s as if Mr. Benedict mocks S.Q. or Dumbledore never tried to help Draco.
So fun, yes. But one dimensional fun. That’s not always bad but I wished for a little more.