As regular readers of this blog know (all three of you) I enjoy creative young adult fiction – particularly with a speculative perspective or dealing with myths or legends. So when I saw What-theDickens on the discount table at Half-Price Books I added it to the shopping cart (my kids like to ride in them – or climb in an out of them anyways).
Here is the publisher’s blurb:
A terrible storm is raging, and ten-year-old Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s the story of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee who is working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns that there is a dutiful tribe of skibbereen (call them tooth fairies) to which he hopes to belong. As his tale of discovery unfolds, however, both What-the- Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and less sure than they ever imagined.
As noted above, the book contains a story within a story. The reader “hears” the story from Gage as he tells it to his cousins. The backdrop to this is the storm which has cut them off from their parents and civilization at large. The stories eventually come together in the person of Gage.
The story that focuses on What-the-Dickens is clever and imaginative; an entertaining take on tooth fairies. The other story leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination and, while it seems to want to say something about loneliness, loss and the power of stories, it didn’t quite mesh with the central story of the Skibberee – at least for me.
There seemed to be too many threads and questions in the “real world” such that whenever the story returned there it bogged down. At the same time, the arc of that story felt thin and not quite clear. Too much going on and not enough clarity, in other words. It could be that it’s sitting awkwardly between adult and children’s story contributed to this disconnect.
Despite this, it is an enjoyable, and even thought provoking, read. Maguir is a skilled writer and even when he tries to do too much he does so with descriptive and creative prose.