Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Pig War

When I joined goodreads, one of the first things I loved, ya know, besides the whole thing about it being a website for books, was the giveaway section. For real? Free books? I was all in. Still am, if you want to send any my way! :)

The first book I received was The Pig War by Mark Holtzen. In exchange for the free book, they like the reader to review it. Perfect. I review all the books I read anyway! But since I did get this book for free, I took reviewing it a little more seriously than I would do otherwise. I read with more of an analytical eye than I usually do, so I will be pointing out things I didn't like or feel should have been clarified, but I do it with the aim of being helpful, not harmful!  It's obvious though the writing that Holtzen cares deeply about his novel and this story is dear to his heart; writing a novel is no small feat! The Pig War is a cute book, but it's obviously a first novel and just isn't quite there yet.

Our main character, Kell, has been marooned to the island of Mobray with his younger sister Grace to stay with their grandfather, who they'd never really met, as their parents are stuck in a foreign country. While on the island, Kell discovers an old revolver and ancient journal. While investigating their origins, he is directed towards The Pig War, which he'd never heard of before. [Neither had I!] In their research of The Pig War, Kell is set on a crazy adventure, and on the way, Kell learns about The Pig War, his aloof grandfather, and maybe a little about himself! 

The first problem I ran into with The Pig War, is that I didn't know how old Kell and Grace were. It made it hard to understand them as characters because I didn't know if their behavior was unique or stereotypical. The character development and consistency throughout was a problem. Kell and Grace didn't seem true to life. A kid like Kell is hard to find these days. At one point in the novel, he says he wanted to spend his summer doing "research." He doesn't say what he wants to research, just that he does, which I found odd. He just doesn't seem like any 12-year-old I know. [And I work with 6th graders!] Bookish, yes. Borderline obsessed with books and knowledge over anything else? I don't know. It made it hard to connect with Kell because I found him so stereotypical yet unreal. It almost would have seemed more real to me if The Pig War took place in the seventies or eighties. Folks were less distracted by electronics back then. It's almost like Kell would have fit in better back then, seemed more real. [Does that make sense?]

I also was unsure about the novel's demographic. I didn't know if it was written as an adult, for adults, looking back on his coming-of-age summer or for the young boys themselves. Ultimately, I decided that The Pig War  would be a good book for advanced middle school readers. It's strong on narrative, instead of action, which is more difficult for lower level readers, and the age of the characters would definitely appeal to readers that age. So it would be great for smart sixth graders. Unfortunately, my sixth graders are required to read novels with over 150 pages, so I can't recommend this to any of them for their school work. And heaven knows they don't read out of class! This also puts The Pig War in competition with the beloved Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins.  

Overall, [oh, I'm so cliche! It's late, don't hold it against me!] I found The Pig War to be a good first novel from Holtzen, despite the fact that I read it like a draft. As previously mentioned, because I got it for free, I wanted to be as helpful and honest as possible. The Pig War just isn't *quite* there yet. Which, really, is good. Authors who succeed at their first novel (ie: SE Hinton) seem to go downhill, and I would like Holtzen to go up as a writer. We all want to improve in our endeavors. So, Holtzen, keep writing! And readers, at least give the back of The Pig War a read. You just might love it! 

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