Monday, June 20, 2011

MG Book Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

General Information
Publisher:  Harper Collins / Scholastic
Year of publication:  1999-2006 (see list below)
# of books in the series: 13
# of chapters:  13 (except the last book: 14)
# of pages:  162-337 (see below)
Genre:  Adventure
Plot summary:  from Wikipedia

Books in the Series
# 1:  The Bad Beginning (1999; 162 pages)
# 2:  The Reptile Room (1999; 190 pages)
# 3:  The Wide Window (2000; 214 pages)
# 4:  The Miserable Mill (2000; 194 pages)
# 5:  The Austere Academy (2000; 221 pages)
# 6:  The Ersatz Elevator (2001; 259 pages)
#7:  The Vile Village (2001; 256 pages)
#8:  The Hostile Hospital (2001; 255 pages)
#9:  The Carnivorous Carnival (2002; 286 pages)
#10: The Slippery Slope (2003; 337 pages)
#11: The Grim Grotto (2004; 323 pages)
#12: The Penultimate Peril (2005; 353 pages)
#13: The End (2006; 337 pages)

Positive Points
The author found a creative way to introduce complicated words and expressions to young children.  Even the titles contain difficult words, such as penultimate and ersatz.  The words are explained either by the characters or by the narrator (often in a humorous way), and repeated several times throughout the story, which makes them easier to absorb.

The three main characters each have one special ability:  Violet invents useful things, Klaus reads many books and has a lot of knowledge on just about anything, and Sunny likes to bite things with her sharp teeth, and later becomes an excellent cook. Other characters also have distinct personality traits:  Count Olaf is always developing schemes to snatch the three orphans' fortune.  Mr. Poe, the banker in charge of the orphans, is constantly coughing, and so on.  It's easy to connect with the characters because they each have unique, specific mannerisms.

Negative Points
The plot gets repetitive after a few books.  In each book, the Beaudelaire orphans move in with a distant relative, and they find themselves in a miserable situation.  Count Olaf disguises himself, but only the orphans recognize him. Everyone else is oblivious to his true identity and doesn't take the kids seriously.  The three children use their unique qualities to uncover him, and he escapes just as the adults finally recognize him.  The plot varies a little more with the last few books, however, and there are quite a few surprises along the way.  It gets interesting in book # 12 when several characters from previous books all meet in one same place.

Some mannerisms are very repetitive. The Beaudelaire orphans look at one another at least three or four times throughout each book.  Or an adult tries to explain a complicated word to them and they say "We know what that word means."  A little variation would be good.

Certain scenes are quite violent, like lions eating someone alive, or one of the minor characters getting shot by a harpoon by mistake.  I thought it was a bit too shocking for young children, even if there are no gruesome descriptions.

Many loose ends and unresolved mysteries by the end of the last book left me unsatisfied.  What happened to the triplets that had become good friends with the Beaudelaires?  Where did the submarine captain go and what was the question mark symbol spotted by the radar?  I'm still not sure who Lemony Snicket was.  I guess I'll have to read Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography and get more answers.

Some parts have a lot of telling and long paragraphs enumerating things, which I skipped at times.  It gets boring to read through them.

What makes these books unique
I would say the most unique point about this series is the POV.  The story is narrated by Lemony Snicket, who is also one of the characters in the books. He hardly plays any role in the plot, but his name is mentioned and he appears on a photo at some point in the story.  Sometimes, he talks about an event in his life or gives examples from his own experience to explain a point, addressing the readers directly, using the 2nd person POV.  Other than that, the whole story is told in the 3rd person as he simply narrates the orphans' adventures. So in a sense, Lemony Snicket is both a fictive character and a real person (Daniel Handler's pen name).

Overall Impression
Despite the negative points, I enjoyed the series and found it entertaining enough to recommend it.

I would suggest reading each book from first to last.  It's possible to read them in a random order and still follow the story, but some important details would be missed.  Some of the books end with a cliffhanger, the next book picking up exactly where the last one ended.

My Rating:

Thinking of purchasing these books? I'll make it easy for you:


Emailman said...

Great review, Annie :) You explain them very well. I have never read them myself, but seen the film, and your review sounded bang on to what I saw.

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks, Kurt! :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Good for you for reading them. I was tempted a few years ago until I saw there were 13. I haven't had much luck w/ repetitive series like that and decided not to try.

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