Monday, February 5, 2018

Review - Oddity

by Sarah Cannon
Date: 2017
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 304
Format: e-book
Source: library

Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where normal is odd and odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, and instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven't been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town's yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared . . .

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (who's inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly quite laughable), Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity's secrets, even evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes . . . and Ada can't let it go. Because, if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

Join a tough eleven-year-old as she faces down zombie rabbits, alien mobs, and Puppet Cartels while trying to find her missing twin in Sarah Cannon's imaginative middle-grade debut, Oddity.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book seemed to start off pretty well, with an exciting scene involving schoolkids trying to take down live leopards in the gym. It set the tone for the rest of the book's quirkiness. Unfortunately, those quirks were both its strength and its weakness.

For the longest time, I thought I was going to DNF this one. If I go back over my notes, I see that I was over halfway in when I suspected I might be getting to the main plot. That's way too late for any book, never mind one aimed at younger readers. When the plot finally did get going, it still had some hiccups and stalls before finally barrelling through toward the finale. The pacing in the whole book seemed off as a result, and the little "six months later" epilogue at the end really could have been skipped, since it was basically just a rushed scene that didn't really add anything to the story (except another quirky anecdote).

So... Oddity, New Mexico is a weird little town. It's sort of along the lines of Midnight, Texas, but with a more kid-friendly slant. There are aliens running around town, getting into weird face-offs with zombie rabbits (which I actually liked; their grasp of grammar was especially amusing--one of them referred to a particular type of frozen meat as "beeves"... which makes a weird sense if you think about it). The whole town is run by a quartet of sentient puppets. Yes, puppets. It's just one of the weird and wonderful ideas in this extremely creative story.

The problem is, so much of the first part of the book is spent developing this complex world. Each chapter seems like a little vignette, unrelated to any sort of overarching plot. And while I can see, looking back, that those episodes helped to explain a lot of what was going on, it didn't seem like those bits were relevant at the time. It's almost as if this story wasn't meant to be a novel. I can see it as a graphic novel (where you could draw many of these creatures and scenarios without having to explain them in writing) or as an animated movie (it would be so cute and colourful); as a novel, though, all that exposition and world-building became a bit tedious.

Then there's the issue of the ages. There are a few things in the book that made me wonder if the characters had originally been written as a bit older (13 or so, maybe?) and then were aged down later. I'm not sure why this would've been done, because it would've worked so much better had the characters been a little older. Then I wouldn't have had to wonder why all these kids were going through precocious puberty (Ada mentions that she continually teased her guy friends about their cracking voices, and one of them wears body spray, implying he's already getting stinky... but they're only supposed to be 11-year-old fifth-graders), why nobody seemed to care that preteens were running around at all hours of the day and night, and why Ada used words that I constantly had to look up. Writing child characters can be tricky. They need to sound like kids. Ada didn't. I might've been able to go with it if she'd been 13 and a voracious reader or something, but when an 11-year-old who hasn't shown any inclination toward being particularly studious talks about a baby being "fractious", the author's clearly showing her hand.

There's quite a bit of representation here. Ada's black, her friend has two moms, and her aunt's disabled. However, I wasn't quite sure why Ada was black, particularly in this setting. It might've been nice to see a kid with a background from the local area, maybe Pueblo. There was also a questionable joke about a certain type of alien that resided in the town that came perilously close to an offensive racial stereotype. I'm not sure if that's what the author intended, but that's how I read it.

Still, I really wanted to find out what happened to Ada's sister, Pearl. So I kept reading. Luckily, this book has some of the technically strongest writing I've read in ages, so at least I didn't have to worry about that. And when we finally got around to the real meat of the story, it was exciting and ultimately satisfying.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

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