Evil Genius, Revisited

So, I'm conflicted about this post. I've more or less decided that this blog was going to be a place to write about children's literature in a positive manner. Not that I don't enjoy reading the odd eviscerating review every now and then, but it's clear to me that for the most part, everyone who writes a book is trying their best. Really. It's hard to write a book, and it's dreadfully unfair, really, that not everyone who does it is equally talented. They'd write a better book if they could, I think, it's just not that simple.

We got Evil Genius on the recommendation of a clerk at one of our favorite bookstores. And it looked funny, and dark, and smart, so Diana cheerfully went ahead and we brought it home. She read it for a few hours, then abruptly put it down.

Usually this means something that makes her uneasy has occurred, but she wouldn't say what when I asked her, only said that she'd wanted to stop. So I decided to read it in case there was anything I would be hearing about in an upcoming nightmare.

Evil Genius isn't a bad book. It's fine. It is dark, and it is smart. It tries, and tries hard, to explore things that matter, like morality, and intelligence, and love. But it just…fails. At least for me. It's one of those books where I'm left thinking how clear it is that being smart isn't what makes someone a good writer. The author has good ideas, and lots of energy, and no end of intelligence, but no one comes through, not really. Characters blur, the ideas never blossom, and in all the attempts to convey true feeling is attempted to be conveyed by  come down to how many times the boy bursts into tears, as though to prove he really has feelings–and a heart–now. But it's a heart that never reaches us, somehow.

It feels sort of terrible to write this. I know the author had great vision and hope for this book, the whole thing exudes her ambition and desire. But I read it with hopes, too, and am left feeling sort of let down and blue. I don't think I'm going to write any more posts like this, I don't think it's what I want to do here. It's always so sad when a book can't bring you around to its point of view.

Diana ended up coming back to the book, and liking it OK. She never told me what it was that put her off, however temporarily. I guess I'll never know.

6 thoughts on “Evil Genius, Revisited

  1. This is such a great blog. I really love how you speak about children, children’s literature, and the mix of the two. This post is so sensitive both to how the reader feels and how the author’s hard work didn’t quite pay off. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I have already come to value it. A lot.

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  2. This really was a great post. As the author, I would be touched that you genuinely looked for the best in the book. The best thing I’ve ever heard said about a movie reviewer was, “They really liked movies.” And it’s clear that you really like children’s books. I’m so glad that you do, and that you’re telling us about it!

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  3. This has got to be the kindest bad review I’ve ever seen 🙂 A little negative can be really helpful, especially when the good and bad points are laid out for you, and the bad simply outweighs the good.

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  4. I agree with the others who have posted. You did write the kindest review. However, I don’t think you should be put off of never having to write one like it again. It’s good to have a balance (we loved this, this one not so much, really didn’t like this one, etc.). Because you are such a thoughtful individual you certainly do a “didn’t like this so much” in a very, very classy way and that’s helpful to us blog readers!

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  5. I agree with Bridget – the occasional ‘bad’ review (meaning, in your case, sensitive critique) is actually quite helpful, both as an example of the kind of writing that just doesn’t quite make it AND an exemplar of the kind of respectful reading/critique that can be done of a book that isn’t your cup of tea.

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  6. I adored both Evil Genius books, I did not care for the new one with the vampire theme. I am a bookseller, and the kids section is one of my specialties. If you are looking for something quirky but not quite so mean, try the Lily Dale series.

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