Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Wikkeling, by Steven Arntson: Things not to put on your coffee table

The Wikkeling
by Steven Arntson, illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini
Philadelphia: Running Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-7624-3903-4

This…is not a normal book.  Which  means I feel okay about not doing a review of my normal format.  It also means I feel okay about admitting that I’m not sure how I feel about this book.  Honestly, I think it may be a book that tried to be too many things for too many audiences.   If you remember way back, I was lured in by the cover – it gives me the shivers yet is marketed to kids?  So I borrowed it from the library, where it is now heinously overdue, which has finally prompted me to write the following review.  

The plot basics:  In a future-y world of libertarian technophobe nightmares come to life, a little girl named Henrietta, a bit of an outcast in her school, lives in the only old-fashioned (ie. made out of wood) house in her neighborhood.  One evening she discovered a wild housecat injured in her attic (there apparently are no normal pets or any wild animals in this future world) and cares for it.  Shortly thereafter, she makes bonds with a new boy in her class, Gary, when they both discover they suffer from migraines, which Henrietta is starting to think are caused by a creeptastic man who only she and Gary can see who goes around touching people on the forehead, including a kindergartener named Rosie.  Obviously, they instantly induct her into their roving band of child migraine sufferers.  Moreover, suddenly they realize that from the window in Henrietta’s attic, they can see into the past, but this view is put in jeopardy when Henrietta’s parents receive notice that the city wants to tear down their old house and give them a new model.  When her step-grandfather gives her a gift of a real, paper and ink book, a Bestiary, not only do they learn that wild housecats are near extinction because they can prefer to live in old construction, but that the long-fingered creeper appears and is noted as the Wikkeling, a creature that hates and seeks to end anything but new technology, and may be the cause of their major migraines.
Debrief:  This book has a lot going on.  While trying to summarize it, I realized there’s a lot of plot points that are all over the place.  Sure, they are all somewhat related.  But honestly, the whole time I was reading it I was unclear as to whom it was written for.  And it was distracting! Because really?  It’s not entirely written for kids.  It’s not entirely written for their adults.  It’s not entirely written for snarky, wiseass hipsters either, though the cover, if marketed to anybody, is marketed to this demographic.  Seriously, who would buy this book for a kid, unless you hate and want to terrify them? (Unless it is a weird and intelligent kid who doesn't scare easy and you love them, which is why you buy them books instead of socks for the holidays, which is the obvious exception). It’s been face down on my coffee table because I can’t handle those fingers! 
This book tries to be a dystopian/think about your technological future more actively you vapid greedy monsters you or you’ll wind up like this cautionary tale book(except it never quite gets there, barring the creepy Wikkeling).  It seems to be channeling Feed (car horns blare advertisements geared to the people nearby), standardized test nightmares (Kids all have to learn by computer in a classroom, and then have to take periodic nationwide tests that if they fail, results in them being turned into garbage collectors. Yeah. ), and almost kind of tries to satirize the ways in which society sometimes overreacts to safety (kids have actual harnesses in their school buses; parents have cameras in their kids bedrooms; their children’s school computer results are sent to parents, etc.).  However, I’m not sure it is all that it strives to be, perhaps because it is striving to be too much and for too many audiences all at once.  There is even a great insert (it’s actually beautiful) of the Bestiary in the middle of the book, with full color images and information about the beasties.  So maybe it’s for artsy people?  Honestly, pick it up if you want a weird hipstery book or know a weird, intelligent, hipstery kid who doesn’t scare easily and is reading at at least a 5th grade level.  Otherwise…you’re probably fine without looking at those creepy fingers on your coffee table.  

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