Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Witch & Wizard – James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet


I think it is safe to say James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard has an awesome cover. It was the cover that initially attracted me to the book. Upon mentioning it to PoseySessions she told me it was a YA dystopian novel, at which point I became even more interested. I looked around locally for a copy and didn't find one and had partially forgotten about it when one day last week my awesome lady handed me a copy out of the blue. I cracked it open immediately and almost let out a verbal wah wah waaaaaah of disappointment. The first few pages were bad, they read like a cheesy children’s story full of unimaginative clichés and lame parodies. (Freida Halo? Lay-Z? Really?) But what did I expect from a writer who publishes a book on a nearly monthly basis, a writer who depends on writers like Charbonnet to write his first drafts for him, a writer who has admitted he is not a master of prose? I guess I expected more than the watered down and uninspired shell of a story that is the first few chapters.

With & Wizard improves dramatically as the book progresses, the final 2/3rds of the book encompasses a pretty good story. It is a solid page turner, but it is by no means a “good” book. The characters in the novel are horrendous, poorly imagined, poorly written and just all around unbelievable and impossible to identify with. I would never expect such levity from two kids about to be executed. The last I knew being ripped from one’s parents in the dead of night and told you were going to be killed was not an opportunity for sardonic humor. Yes it is a kids book, but even that does not excuse the atrocious and shallow style in which the book is written. It really feels like the cliff notes version of a pretty good book. The story is there, but the writing leaves too much to be desired.

Witch & Wizard was not a YA book, it landed solidly in Middle Grade territory, written for readers maybe 12 years old. Patterson is hammering a very young audience with complex political messages that are boiled down and presented in an uncomplicated way. Dystopia by its nature is political. Witch & Wizard deals with political messages that the target audience cannot understand. This book presents a young reader with a deep distrust of authority, community, adults and a burgeoning misanthropic sentiment. Sure its a neat fairy tale message, the likes of Peter Pan, to tell kids they can rule the world. Patterson, in this novel walks a fine line between enriching our children with a sense of individuality and empowerment, and propagandizing them.

In summation, Witch & Wizard is a decent page turner, a good story poorly told. But in the end it seems like the shell of a book that could have been great if filled with more substance. Patterson is not a good writer, and only a fair storyteller. The best reason for a child to read this book is for the motivational factor. A 12 year old aspiring writer can look at this and say to himself “if this guy can get rich writing like this, there is no reason I can’t as well.”


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