There’s a lot that I liked about this book, but the author’s affectation of using challenging words relative to the age of his audience (Yay! Do more of that!) and then defining them in a subclause (Boo! Do less of that) ends up undermining what he’s trying to do.
I was a precocious reader (is there a CBR participant who wasn’t?) and the only thing I disliked more than a book too simple for my reading level was one that pretended it wasn’t. Calvin and Hobbes used words that I still don’t find in adult novels much today, but it never talked down to the reader by defining them, and it was A NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIP. Respect your readers. Even if they’re children. Hell, ESPECIALLY if they’re children. Kids are well attuned to bullshit, and they can tell when they’re being put on. Using obscure words and then defining them is like setting up a long jump hurdle and putting a ramp up to the top. What’s the point? I learned to read via context clues, and that is a skill that is undervalued in teaching kids to read. Hell, it’s a skill in teaching other languages – figuring out how to work your way around meaning is how you learn communication.
I guess rant over; the story here is okay enough, and Handler’s narrator / ostensible author “Lemony Snicket” is a fun convention. He’s probably the most defined character in the book without actually being part of the story. And yay for having unreliable narration in a children’s book. But the story itself is kind of uncomfortable for a children’s book – and not in an “oh, death and gothic trappings are scary for little minds” way, but the crux of the story (spoilers?) is that the children’s appointed guardian following the death of their wealthy parents tries to secure their fortune by marrying the 14 year old daughter, and BOY does that raise some uncomfortable questions. It’s never insinuated that the marriage is anything but a cover for trying to steal the fortune, but we are talking about a grown ass man trying to marry a teenage girl and subverting the age limitations by consenting as her guardian. BARF.
So yeah. I bought a few of these because they were at goodwill and cheap enough, and I’m willing to see where it goes, but a bad beginning indeed.