Sunday, February 10, 2008

Doctor Who: Voyager and some Andrew Clements novels

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

This book's flawed to an aggravating degree, because while the plots are pretty solid, the stories are entertaining and John Ridgway's art is fabulous, at no point does the main character appear anything like the Sixth Doctor. There's a good reason, or excuse, for this: because the producer of the Doctor Who TV series wanted all the ancillary merchandising to reflect Colin Baker's Doctor from the moment he first appeared onscreen towards the end of the 1984 season, the first chunk of episodes in this book were written before his character had been seen. And then he was seen in a story shown across two weeks which depicted him as delusional after his stressful regeneration, so all the rest of the episodes (twenty in all) were written with only a vague idea how he should be portrayed. So Colin's Doctor - the loudmouthed, egotistical perfect children's hero, railing at maximum volume - isn't present here at all. They're still good enough stories, and a long arc of episodes dealing with an ancient, insane Time Lord criminal who's trying to escape the attentions of an Eternal called Voyager, are periodically brilliant, but the uneven characterization and the insanely high price tag - $32 for 170 BW pages - make this a recommendation only for collectors.

I've been remiss in telling my fellow parents about Andrew Clements. I've been very fortunate to have children who enjoy reciprocating the reading they've uncovered on their own with me, and about two years ago, when I mentioned that the plot of Frindle, in which a schoolkid demonstrates the foolish, arbitrary nature of words by coming up with a new name for what we call a "pen," sounded like a neat idea, the Hipster Son asked if I wanted to read his copy. Since then, he's checked out or bought five other Clements novels and passed them to me when finished.

There's a degree of repetition in Clements' basic plots - an elementary schoolkid finds some reason to question the status quo - but there's an incredible variety in where the stories lead from there, making these perfect reads for later elementary and early middle-school students. Sometimes the young heroes earn major victories, but sometimes, as in The Last Holiday Concert, their victory doesn't change an inevitable, downbeat reality. In others, like The Janitor's Boy, there's little to change beyond the understanding that sometimes even parents can have their souls crushed by inevitability.

The best of the Clements novels I've read is the one I just finished, The Landry News, in which a girl starts an underground newspaper and finds a surprising ally in the teacher against whom she spoke out in an editorial. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, it's a great story told exceptionally well. If you've got kids, or if your friends do, I can't recommend Clements highly enough. Your kids will eat these stories up, and if you've got a spare hour, you'll read right along with them.

(Originally posted February 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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