Things aren’t looking so great for the Ormsby family. What’s left of them at their house that is. Parents are gone and only less-than-useful cousin Gage is left to take care of Dinah, Zeke and baby Rebecca Ruth. The only thing Gage proves successful at is distracting the children from their gloomy predicament with a story of a, well, not a fairy exactly. The children forget about being hungry and missing their parents as the tale of the skiberdeen What-the-Dickens unfolds in a very non-fairy tale way.
I didn’t realize when I first picked this up that it was by the same guy who wrote Wicked, which is one of my all-time favorite musicals and has been on my must-read list for a while. Having had a taste now of Maguire’s writing, I’m definitely eager to give Wicked a read.
This is a charming story set against a less than charming backdrop. As you follow the story of What-the-Dickens (the story in the story), you are slowly given the pieces of the real story of the Ormsby family. And it’s entirely easy to forget that these kids are in the middle of a disaster area with little food, poor sanitation, no communication and no parents. (That part drove me crazy and doesn’t get explained until pretty far into the book.) It’s a similar situation to the Princess Bride where the story is told to distract and entertain and becomes more real than the “real” situation the book is set in.
What-the-Dickens and the entire skiberdeen world were quite entertaining, although I’m not entirely certain I really got that passionately involved in caring about any of them. Liked Pepper quite a bit. I think WTD would have grown on me given more time. And if I’m reading the end correctly, there’s likely to be more time in the shape of another book.
Maguire’s writing style is surprisingly literary for a children’s book, although I’m sure he’d argue that this book shouldn’t be labeled that way. There are a lot of subtle jabs at decidedly adult matters that would go over the head of kids and most adults, but the story itself is quite suitable for children.
Get What-the-Dickens at Amazon.com