Friday, March 27, 2009

The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

After my disappointment with The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, which I read just before I started the blog and really disliked, and my frustration with the forebludgeoning in The Sisters Grimm, I was kind of feeling like maybe I just wasn't up for reading fantastical series aimed at kids anymore. I was disappointed about it, too, because there's a lot of wonderful kids' lit out there.

Thus I picked up The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, the first in The Spiderwick Chronicles, with a little bit of trepidation. Funny how it took me about an hour and a half to read it, an hour that whizzed by so fast that I didn't even think I'd blinked. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If there was forebludgeoning, I didn't notice it (which is kind of the point of forebludgeoning, I think, so it's not there). It wasn't predictable, but it wasn't trying not to be, if that makes any sense. It felt incredibly short, but when I think back on it, a fair bit happened.

Mallory, Simon and Jared Grace have moved, after their parents' divorce, to an enormous ramshackle house out of the city with their mother. Mallory is the eldest, with a violent streak that I recognize ('cause I had an elder-sister violent streak, too), and Simon and Jared are twins. Simon adores his pets, and their mother allows him to have them (he even has mice! hooray!), but Jared's become a bit of a problem. He doesn't seem to have an outlet to deal with his frustration -- and he's been in a fight at school that has caused his entire family to look at him differently. They don't trust him, even though they still love him. So when really troublesome things start happening in the house, it's Jared who gets the blame. And it's from Jared's perspective that we view the ensuing events in the book.

Jared makes a great hero, even for adults. He's got that familiar "no one understands, no one listens, no one believes me!" thing happening. I know I identified with that as a kid. As an adult, I completely and fully understand where his mother is coming from, too, and I think that's the huge difference between this book and A Bad Beginning. Adults (or the one adult in the book) aren't portrayed as being stupid, cruel or ignorant. Helen Grace has a lot going on, and she's stressed out, and she's desperately worried about her kids, especially Jared, who seems to be acting out. We can see this in the very small part she plays and I like that. So I don't think she's being willfully ignorant or stupid when she blames Jared for what's happening; it's all very logical to an adult mind.

Mostly, though, Black and DiTerlizzi let the kids get on with things, as kids are liable to do. I love the setting and the premise. The black-and-white ink pictures that accompany the text remind me fondly of an edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I had as a kid. They're simple, delicate, and enchanting, and compliment the text perfectly.

Most of all I love the characters. I'm already growing attached to them. I've ordered The Seeing Stone from the library, and am looking forward to reading it next week.


Ana S. said...

For some reason I'd never thought of actually reading these books. No idea why. You've just changed that, though :P

Unknown said...

I would laugh my evil "I've gotten someone started on yet another series" laugh, but my suspicion is that the entire series could probably be read in a day. What might be more dangerous is that Holly Black is rather prolific, and I'm thinking I might have to try her YA stuff soon too. *insert mildly evil chortle here*