Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Postcard by Tony Abbott

Have you ever read a book that you thought was a good story, but you felt the author just didn’t do his best writing? That’s how I felt about The Postcard by Tony Abbott. It was a mystery. I absolutely love mysteries and it was a young adult novel – two of my favorite genres rolled into one. It should have been a great read (or listen) for me. My dilemma is that I’m not sure how much of how I feel about the writing is due to my own thoughts on the writing or due to my having briefly scanned a review on Amazon. Here’s a portion of the review on Amazon (which originally appeared in Kirkus) “Author of the endless Secrets of Droon series, Abbott has created a silly, overlong mystery full of conclusion-jumping and nonsensical clues. The characters are annoying (even to each other) and the supposedly compelling mystery Jason finds is a florid, turgid mess. (Fiction. 11-13) (Kirkus Reviews).”

I would not have even read this review if I had not been checking Amazon for a recommended grade level for the book. (Ages 9 -12) The Postcard was an impulse buy from our recent Book Fair. Based on the brief summary on the dust jacket it seemed like a good match for our collection. I managed to get an audio copy from the public library so I could preview before putting it out on the shelves. I like to know as much as possible out the books so I don’t look totally lame to the students. What sent me to searching for the age level was the fact that we learn early on that Jason’s grandmother was never married and had a child out of wedlock. Jason’s dad does not even know who is father was/is. Pretty tame stuff compared to what appears in many books today, but keep in mind, I work in an elementary school. It’s important to not only be aware of what my students enjoy reading, but how their parents may feel about what they read.

There are no hot, torrid love scenes. Chances are the young people who do read it won’t even blink an eye at the thought of an unwed mother. The focus of the mystery centers around on just who was Jason’s grandfather and why was his great-grandfather so set against his daughter being with him. There’s a lot in this story to grab a reader’s attention: mobsters, mystery, and kids searching for clues and hunting down the real story, circus characters and war heroes. Though I did not find the characters annoying, I do have to admit the story was somewhat of a mess. I kept finding myself distracted. There is a story inside the story, which did make things confusing. Time did not seem to flow in a sensible manner. It was sometimes hard to keep track of all the characters. Not exactly the best writing. But . . . it passed the page test (or audio track test). I kept going. Maybe Abbott could have done a better job on the writing, but he did do at least succeed in one area: he created a mystery that I as the reader (listener), wanted to solve. So I finished the book. I just wish I could make up my mind if my thoughts on the writing were truly my own and not influenced by the review. Will I book talk it to my students? Probably not. Oh, I’ll put it out on the shelf, but I think it’s one better left for them to find on their own.

So what are you reading or listening to?

1 comment:

Tony Abbott said...

Hi. I always try to keep track of reactions to my books, and I was interested to read your review. Everyone has their own reactions, and yours is quite as valid as that of anyone else; of course. Permit me to say two things, however. Listening to the book is absolutely not the same as reading it on the page, especially in the case of The Postcard. To my mind the performance, while well done, is far too slow and drawn out. I could not imagine how difficult it would be to keep track of the many, many characters, over that many chapters and two distinct timelines, as well as the two different voices. Much happens in the eye-brain reaction of the reader that simply doesn't when you listen, and we probably shouldn't confuse the two ways of entering a story. It was meant to be read, not listened to. Secondly, reading reviews prior to purchasing a book is pervasive but fraught with danger. The review you read was particularly dishonest and insulting, penned by a poor critical mind, as, no doubt many reviews are. Enough said about that. Normally, one doesn't respond to reviews, even ultimately kind ones like yours. Nor do I for an instant wish to discredit yours in any way; I more wanted to note that the direction you came to the book was through a couple of layers of distance that ideally the writer doesn't want there. Thanks, finally, for bringing the book into your library and for making it available to your students. Press on with your good work.
Tony Abbott