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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Printz Award Honoree and National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti debuts in middle grade with a tongue-in-cheek hero's journey set in a town full of magic, mayhem, lighthouses... and evil. The story takes place in a world much like ours, but at the same time not at all like ours, in which Vlad Luxor--a capricious, vain, infantile tyrant--rules over a town with an iron fist. He's an emperor with no clothes, but woe is the person who points that out--they could wind up turned into a squirrel or lizard or who knows what! For in this world, the evil leader also has magic, which he uses to punish anyone who speaks out against him. But in every classic tale with a despicable villain, there must also be a truly noble hero--in this case, four of them! Henry, Apollo, Pirate Girl, and JoJo must be their most brave and clever to break the spell Vlad Luxor has cast on Apollo's brother, Rocco. For we can't have Rocco remain a naked lizard for the rest of his life, now can we?…

A Flicker of Courage

by Deb Caletti

Overall Book Review:

In A Flicker of Courage, Deb Caletti takes the reader on a journey along with Henry, the shy, quiet, and maybe someday courageous boy who serves as the book’s protagonist. He and a group of friends must band together to save a younger boy from a terrible curse and to thwart the plans of the evil ruler of the land.

At first, it would seem that this book has all the ingredients necessary to be an entertaining book for children. The cast of heroes consists of an assortment of school-aged children, a talking lizard, and a Jack Russel Terrier. The world has an evil ruler who the children must rebel against. The setting abounds with magic. However, the book falls short of its potential, and those ingredients never coalesce into an enjoyable read.

The setting of the story is somewhat confusing because magic exists, and it seems like a fantasy setting at first, but when geography and history are mentioned, it becomes clear that the setting is actually our own everyday world with some changes thrown in.  While a story of magic set in the modern, familiar world can certainly be entertaining, in this instance, it feels jarring and out of place since magic is not the only change from the everyday world, and there’s no explanation offered as to what happened to bring about these changes or why things are so different.

The characters in this book are one-dimensional, and it is hard to sympathize with the heroes or hate the villain because there is not much in either one that seems real or relatable. Their personalities seem cartoonish, but the overall tone of the book attempts to impart that the story is a serious one, with some laughs thrown in, not a comic one. We are constantly told by the author how evil the villain is, but he doesn’t come across as particularly evil or scheming. We’re told how brave the characters are, but the perils that they go through don’t seem all that perilous, possibly because the villain and his henchmen seem more bumbling than evil. In addition, the characters are carried along by events through most of the book, and it seems that things just happen to work out in spite of the characters’ actions, rather than because of them. As a result, the adventure is severely lacking in adventurous or meaningful moments.

The author’s style of writing is not difficult to read, but it is difficult to be engrossed with. The story is told almost entirely in the present tense, which breaks the reader’s immersion in the story. In addition to the story, the book is full of pictures, but the pictures are mostly not illustrations of things that happen in the story but are instead pictures of objects, people, and places that are used to described things in the book. When a simile is used to say that an item is like another, for example, the accompanying picture may be of the thing that the item is being compared to. This is highly distracting, and the pictures don’t feel like they belong. It seems like the author thought a children’s book should have pictures, so put some pictures in using a system that was just barely short of completely random.

The one redeeming aspect of this book is its focus on the virtues of friendship, goodness, and persistence. The characters genuinely care about one another and try to help people who can’t help themselves. However, many books with similarly heroic characters are more entertaining to read, and children and adults alike would be better served to pick up one of those instead.

Review of an Advance Reading Copy

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  None

Violence/Gore:  A few verbal threats; report of child hit by parents on multiple occasions; report of a principal using corporal punishment on students; report of a shipwreck; report of an animal biting a human; report of a few humans changed into animals by magic; report of someone cutting off his own ear (historical context); one illustration shows a diagram of a dissected rodent;a child kicks an adult; a character pinches others painfully a few times; a fight between an adult and children, with minor injury;a few characters are turned into animals by magic.

Sex/Nudity:  Report of a man pinching women’s bottoms; a boy is nervous around the girl he likes; characters hold hands a few times; a boy is jealous that a specific girl likes another boy.

Mature Subject Matter:

Child abuse and neglect is a major theme of this book; bullying.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Empty ale cans are shown; beer is in the title of one recipe.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.