Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Strictest School in the World

 Book Talk:  Emmaline is determined to build a flying machine, and she gets the perfect opportunity to do just that when her parents send her from India to stay with her aunt in England.  Her aunt is a widower with the money to support Emmaline in her aviary endeavors and seems to have no qualms with allowing her niece to engage in such a dangerous and unlady-like pastime.  When she finds a local town boy nicknamed Rubberbones to pilot her machine it seems like she has everything she needs.  But soon her time inventing and running free is cut short by her parent's desire that she get a proper education.  The teachers are ruthless and the students are either too terrified to speak or terrifying the others.  If anyone steps out of line they are threatened with the sinister punishment of 'cleaning out the birds.'  Emmaline is used to using her wit to create inventions, but if she wants to escape she will need to find the courage to put her own neck on the line.  Will she be able to do it?  Or will she be stuck forever in the strictest school in the world?

Rocks My Socks: I love the setting of the novel and the satirical jabs it takes at English society at the time like the ruthless soccer match between local towns or how the gypsies are fed up with English children running off to join them.  Emmaline is a bright, determined character and Rubberbones is a lovable scamp.  The details about Emmaline's attempts to make a flying machine are interesting as well.

Rocks In My Socks: Once Emmaline gets to the strictest school etc it becomes very predictable and a bit boring.  I realize that it's supposed to be satirizing the whole strict school trope, but this area of the novel just wasn't as strong or engaging.  It also takes the hyperbole to the extreme at this point and what was at first a fairly realistic story with embellishments for comedic effect turns it into something that is just completely absurd and seems to follow no rhyme or reason or internal rules.  I wish Emmaline had been left to making up flying devices in her small town.  There is a thin line between making fun of a genre of fiction and just writing bad genre fiction, and for me this book skirted that line a bit too much. 

Every Book Its Reader: Boys and girls aged 9-12 who like silly, light-hearted quick reads.  There are similarities to the Lemony Snickett series, but this work is definitely not as dark so for children who liked the series for its humour, I'd recommend this book, but for children who liked Snickett for his darker tendencies I wouldn't.  I think the book is a bit too basic and juvenile to be really enjoyed by most adults.  

The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse

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