Monday, December 2, 2019

Review - Never Talk to Ravens

Never Talk to Ravens (An Xavion and Jamieson Time-Out Adventure #1)
by M. L. Flurry
Date: 2019
Publisher: BooksGoSocial
Reading level: C
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 130
Format: e-book
Source: library

Xavion is in big trouble.

But the kangaroo is in even bigger trouble.

Should Xavion help him?

Can Xavion, a boy with big feet, and Jamieson, a homesick kangaroo, help each other?

This fast-paced book features

... basketball, carnivals, high-jumping,

... talking animals, airplanes,

... school and a globe-spanning adventure.

This book is designed to entertain even reluctant readers. Graphics and illustrations are sprinkled throughout.

You’ll love Never Talk to Ravens because Xavion is about to find out that what he thinks is a weakness is really a strength.

Get it now.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

At first, I thought this wasn't too bad. The technical aspects of the writing were surprisingly strong. Unfortunately, it didn't last. By the time I got to the end, the writing was starting to fall apart, the plot had taken a decidedly stupid turn, and I was just glad it was all over.

This seems like one of those books that gets written because it sounds like something kids might like. In reality, though, it's just a disjointed mishmash of plot points held together by an overused framing device that's not even subtle. It's hinted at from the very first paragraph that it's all a dream; then that point is belaboured until I started to wonder if Xavion was suffering from narcolepsy. (He sleeps through all his recess time-outs, and nobody seems to think this is worrisome!)

As for those time-outs, they're completely unfair and show Xavion getting punished for giving a bully a taste of his own medicine. He's tormented daily about the size of his feet--something he can't help. When he tries to tell a teacher, the bullying just gets worse, until he finally fights back and calls one of the boys "four-eyes". This lands him with recess time-outs for a week, while the bullies get to continue merrily making snide remarks whenever the teacher's back is turned. Had this been satisfactorily addressed, I might not have been as bothered by it. But the eventual resolution to the bullying problem is Xavion just ignoring the boys, even though they still continue with their behaviour (just with less frequency). That's not satisfying, either from a real life-message perspective or from a storytelling one.

Let's talk about the storytelling for a moment. The basic premise here is that Xavion, bored from being in time-out, dreams of a kangaroo named Jamieson. (Yes, that's probably a spoiler. If it's not supposed to be, the hints need to be meted out much more carefully.) Jamieson ended up in New York after being tricked into a jumping contest by a group of ravens who wanted part of the grand prize... which was one million pepperoni pizzas. Using a series of trampolines and a rubber-band slingshot, he was flung up into the atmosphere (where the laws of physics broke down completely... don't even get me started). He grabbed an airplane's wing and flew all the way to New York, where he encountered Xavion. He wants to get back to Australia in time for his birthday on Sunday, so Xavion takes him to the carnival where he enters another jumping contest (in which he has to ring a bell that's 50 yards in the air) to win an airplane ticket home. This takes place on Saturday afternoon, but no matter... he still manages to make it home for his birthday in Australia by Sunday. (Having a family member who lives in Australia, I spotted the problem right away. It would've already been Sunday in Australia when Jamieson was competing in the contest! Given the length of the flight, it would've been Monday before he got home... and yet, the book states that he made it home in time for his Sunday birthday.)

The pictures look sort of like stock illustrations, and I almost wonder if the storytelling was partially constrained by which pictures were available. Sometimes they seem like they're specific to the story, but other times they're just pictures of random objects like a phone and a treasure map (which, according to the text, should've been a printed list of flight times).

I did like the idea of a male kangaroo wearing a fanny pack (since he doesn't have a natural pouch of his own), but that was about all I really enjoyed here. The plot has logistic problems, characters defy the laws of physics and get away with bullying, and everything sort of falls apart after the first few chapters. Xavion was unbearably dense (he was constantly wondering why his teacher thought he was sleeping, as if teachers just go around randomly accusing their students of having imaginary naps), and he wasn't developed all that well as a character. I guess you could argue that the whole premise was him coming to terms with his big feet, but the plot was a very convoluted way to get there.

Thank you to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.38 out of 5

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