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5 Novels: Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars; Slaves of Spiegel; The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death; The Last Guru; and Young Adult Novel, Daniel Pinkwater, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997, ISBN 0-374-42329-6, $10.95, 648pp.

I was going to write that Pinkwater is not your normal young adult author and then I got to thinking–what is your normal young adult author? Lewis Carroll had his thing for photographing young girls, C.S. Lewis was a bit of a hermit, Roald Dahl played with perversity (if you think his children fictions are dark, try some of his adult stuff, which I couldn’t finish). The women might be sane, for I’ve never heard a nasty story about Madeline L’Engle, Diana Wynne Jones, or E. Nesbit (well, she was a bit of a socialist radical). It does not matter. Pinkwater is akin to all of these in that no one else could quite copy the things that he writes.

This is a collection of Pinkwater novels that have been out of print for years (the original copyrights on these range from 1978 to 1982), but not out of mind. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, in particular, seems to be well-loved and is often mentioned as a favorite of the younger set. I’m glad to finally have this opportunity to read it, for it is indeed a fun book, full of exceedingly strange twists and turns. You aren’t sure if Alan is from Mars, or if he’s just playing, and then you are sure, and then you aren’t. It’s Philip K. Dick lite, but it’s fun.

Slaves of Spiegel and The Last Guru are much more simple (I would even think that they are meant for less mature readers than for the other three in this book), but like the best children’s literature, they have something for everyone. I chuckled through Slaves of Spiegel, finding the contest quite amusing, especially the description of some of the delicacies concocted in the name of food, and I thought the satire, while obvious, in The Last Guru quite effective.

The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death resembles Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars in its convoluted plot, but it seems much more grounded in reality, if a particularly eccentric reality, at least until the last quarter of the book. Its depiction of high school is stiletto sharp, but nothing as cutting as in Young Adult Novel. All the books have a jaundiced view of school, noting the common problems of cliques, moribund teachers, and the energy of youth (yes, that last is a problem–hey, you didn’t think, as a teacher, that I would side totally for the kids, did you?). All of these novels were fun, and I would recommend them to your local dissident youth.

[Finished May 1999]


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