Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame" By L.L. Samson

Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Fiction

If you were stuck with your aunt and uncle while your parents were off on an adventure, what would you do? Well, have an adventure of your own, of course! Fourteen-year-old twins Ophelia and Linus Easterday are left with their quirky Aunt Portia and Uncle Augustus Sandwich when their parents, Drs. Antonia and Ron Easterday, PhD, run off to study four-winged insects on a newly-discovered island for five whole years. As you can tell, the Easterdays are not the greatest parents. The twins find their aunt and uncle much more interesting, if not a little crazy, what with their costume parties and the book store they run, not to mention the secret attic the teens find in the Sandwich’s house. Ophelia and Linus make discoveries of their own in the attic, including what appear to be potions and magic books from one of the house’s former residents, a Cato Grubbs, who simply disappeared one day. There is also a circle painted on the floor that leads to the greatest adventure of all when one morning who should emerge from the circle but Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame—which just happens to be the book Ophelia is currently reading and which she had left inside the circle. With their friend Walter, Ophelia and Linus must find a way to protect Quasimodo from his master, Deacon Frollo, who also appears from book world and is bent on taking “Quasi” back to his slavish life in the novel from which he came.

The author has created an interesting magical device with the portal that transports fictional characters to real life, and the reader may enjoy getting to know the classic character of Quasimodo a bit better (or at least the author’s imagining of him). By focusing on literary characters, the author has presented two stories in one: we get to follow Ophelia, Linus, and Walter while also learning the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  After finishing this book, the reader could be interested in reading the classic Hunchback novel.

Though the story is enjoyable, it has its problems. In the beginning of the story, many characters are introduced at once and I found myself having a difficult time keeping track of names and relations. In fact I went back and reread the beginning after finishing the book just to straighten out the backstory in my mind. I think the author might have better served the readers by working the story presented in the prologue into the book in a natural way. Another problem in the text was the unnecessary use of the narrator, Bartholomew Inkster. His asides do not add to the story and his connection with the characters is never explained. Young readers may find his definitions of words helpful, but I felt they interrupted the story by adding an intrusive voice that seemed to be dumbing things down. Really, the author could have easily gotten by with no narrator and the story would be more focused. The final problem I noticed was the presence of the special camp in the book and the rainstorm that breaks the dam. Neither of these seem terribly relevant to the story and could be removed without affecting the plot.

Despite the changes that I would make to the book, I still enjoyed it. The author has certainly created characters and a storyline that could work across a whole series of books, each exploring a different classic text. Books like this could help young readers gain an interest in the classics of literature.

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