So this book has been big news for the last few months. Unfortunately, I was not really blown away by it the way many people seem to be. The story was fun enough, and creative, but I had quite a few issues with it.
If you haven’t heard what this one’s about, basically it’s the story of a boy whose grandfather told him crazy stories about the weird kids he grew up with. Kids with special abilities, like being able to levitate or lift boulders with one hand. This boy, Jacob, doesn’t believe the stories, until he gets caught up in them. Scattered throughout the book are photographs related to the story, usually relating to the weird kids.
Now the rumor that I’ve heard is that the entire plotline of this book was based on this series of photographs. Originally when I heard of the photo idea, I thought they were photos used as illustrations, created for the storyline, rather than the reverse. I thought that was quite clever, and really looked forward to the interplay of photography and text. However, if the rumor is true, then the book is the opposite, and the text is bent to match the photos, rather than the other way around. From the writing and storyline, this seems probable, and this is where my main issue with the book comes up.
I read a review of this book months ago that said the pictures felt like they got in the way of the story. At the time, I didn’t really understand, but now I do. This book reads a lot like a round robin story, only instead of multiple writers all dragging the story in new directions, it’s dragged around from place to place by random photos. It felt far more like a creative writing assignment than a novel. Periodically, stuff would happen that had no relevance to the story, just for the sake of the photo. You could always tell when a photo was coming, because the story would just veer off on some tangent. While I loved the photos and the idea of using photography for illustration, these photos in particular felt superfluous, or at times even detrimental to the story.
That was frustrating for me, because the story was definitely creative and original, and I liked where Riggs was going with it. But because it kept going back to these pictures, a lot of the writing and plot felt forced. The characterization was likewise forced – though not necessarily due to the photo issue – and despite the originality of the story, it was very predictable. It read far more like a middle grade novel in tone and foreshadowing than young adult, though the subject matter was too old for middle grade. I don’t know. It was just okay for me, I guess. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping it would be.