Reluctant, late BOOK REVIEW: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

The intrepid New York Erratic asks:

What’s the most recent fiction book you’ve read?

You ask a simple question, and I have a simple, then complicated, answer.

The book was Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, which became a New York Times Bestseller.

Lucky Kyle wins a spot as one of the first twelve kids invited to a gala, overnight library lock-in filled with of fun and games. But the next morning, when the lock-in is supposed to be over, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the others must follow book-related clues and unravel all sorts of secret puzzles to find the hidden escape route if they want to win Mr. Lemoncello’s most fabulous prize ever.

Which Im not sure is quite accurate, from the book I read, but no matter.

It’s gotten good press.

I received a review copy of this book in February of 2013, and read it in a couple weeks. Then I was trying to write that assessment of the book, but I just couldn’t. The reason was that there were elements of the book that just irritated the heck out of me, and I didn’t know if I were being overly critical, or that Young Adult fiction just wasn’t my genre. Nah, I’ve read other YA books and didn’t have that reaction.

OK, the things that bugged me:

1. The premise of the book is that the town had lost its library, and that the 12-year-olds had gone their entire lives without ANY library, but then the benefactor, the toy guru, builds this beyond state-of-the-art structure. I know it’s pretend, but could not this guy had SOME temporary structure operational in the interim?

2. For young people without a library, they know astonishing detail about the Dewey Decimal system, far more than this librarian could glean off the top of my head.

3. The conflict that Kyle had at home was actually quite appealing, but once he got into the library, he wasn’t that interesting a character to me.

4. A minor point, but this was supposed to be a game designed by a toy and game guru. Yet there was a reference to the real game SORRY, with a character going back three spaces. There’s no such card in SORRY; one can go back four spaces with a 4, or one space with a 10. Took me right out of the match.

5. The relationship of one of the other 12-year-olds with a famous librarian was just too convenient for me.

6. There were rebus puzzles that I simply did not understand; it may have been rectified in the actual store printing, but what I saw confounded me.

This obligation to write this review hung over me for months, with the publishers representative periodically nudging me, and me trying to write it without finding a satisfactory angle that wasn’t negative.

It wasn’t that it was all bad, though a tad convoluted, but it just didn’t engage me enough, and I couldn’t tell if it were the book or me. And the review hanging over my head prevented me from reading ANY book for three months, figuring if I started reading something else, I’d NEVER write the review. Finally, I gave up.

When there is a nonfiction book for general audiences, or a music album, or a movie, or any number of other items I could be asked to review, I could do it. And if I had LOVED this book, I probably could have written something about it, too. Dissing it, though, when I didn’t feel versed enough in the genre was just not something I was comfortable with.

And, NYE, if you hadn’t forced the issue, I STILL would not have written about it. (The pain and pleasure of Ask Roger Anything.)

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