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the great divide: The Land of Stories

5 books.

TheLandofStories

They gave it FIVE “books”. Out of five.

I facilitate a tween book club and let me tell you: it is the absolute highlight of my month. I am just beaming when I leave our meetings! It is so exciting to see a group of youth jumping to share their thoughts about our latest read. The group is so incredibly smart, funny and insightful. They often make comments on things I myself have missed!

Sometimes though, I wish I could speak about the books we read with someone who is going to analyze it, say… through a feminist lens, or look at the representation of race and class, or someone with whom I can simply say, ‘this is just horrible‘.

Finishing Chris Colfer’s “The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell”. I knew, I just knew the kids would love it. If I was nine, I’d probably give it that 5-star rating, too. It takes us back to a place that we (at least in Western culture), have grown up with: somewhere magical where possibilities are endless. To meet Snow White, Goldilocks and Froggy is exactly like meeting an old friend — or creating a new life-long friend, as in Alex’s case. Of course there’s a delightful twist to every fairy tale that makes the story fresh and fun.

Me now? Well, I give it “1.5 books” out of five. Here are my top 3 concerns:

1. Who is this written for? Some parts seem incredibly dumbed down – like kids need to have “environmental situation” spelled out for them.  So much plot is ‘explained’ by the characters instead of letting the reader make the obvious connections. At the same time, the book is littered with sexual innuendo and other adult topics. Yes, the original fairytales are very adult-ish, and let’s not forget that the Disney versions have bits for parents too, but I can’t help get the feeling that in writing this book, Colfer was just thinking about what would be funny in his reality. With his teenage/adult friends or in his Glee-filled world. He should have considered what fits the tone of the book and who it’s written for.

2. Alex and Conner: Instead of having Alex and Conner deal with the issues they face, I found that the emphasis was placed on having the fairy tale problems fleshed out, while the “real” issue are left in literary limbo. For example, Conner worries on several occasions what the “boys” will think of him (i.e. as a fairy). Whoa – wait. This is a book about learning lessons, about strong characters (okay maybe that was my assumption), and you’re letting Connor bring up bullying without addressing why those boys would be putting Connor down? Why Connor thinks the boys will make fun of him (what gender roles are informing your concerns)? Or even how to handle teasing, period?

As for Alex, she laments the fact that she has no friends – but doesn’t because she’s a Curvy Tree, one-of-a-kind girl… but then she’s super excited because she has finally found friends! Or at least Princesses who sympathise with her and her brother’s quest. Why couldn’t we see Alex develop more substantive relationships with others? Why not address the fact that people who don’t like Alex are bullies, but that they are also reacting to her know-it-all attitude? Why can’t we consider that her character is a bit abrasive – but that she can grow from that? Unfortunately, her interactions with Conner are pretty much the same throughout the book – she hasn’t really changed AT ALL since entering the world of fairy tales.

3. Modern day Princess? Why is every princess still living for a man – or for someone else?

Red – the only “democratically elected” Queen – is  crazy in love and so in order to secure a place in Jack’s heart, she leaves her childhood best friend to be wanted by the authorities for the next 10 years.  Cinderella is still the perfect housewife, popping out a baby at the end to complete the picture of domestic bliss and hope for the future. Sleeping Beauty is going to let everyone around her sleep while she, in an insomniac state, frets about how her Kingdom went down the drain while she was sleeping (because apparently it’s her fault?).

Then there’s Goldilocks, Goldilocks – perhaps the only character with the potential to be something more: an outlaw; kind, clever and strong. But then at the hint of an opportunity for revenge, she is ready to kill her old best friend for ruining her life when they were kids. I get it, Red had plenty of chances to fix her mistakes and didn’t, but why does that reduce Goldilocks into a petty name-calling, girl fighting MEOW type frenzy? Oh right. Because of a man.

Overall I think this book is poorly written, but it is a lot of fun – particluarly for a younger audience. I find it really interesting how there is such a huge divide between my interpretation and theirs. This doesn’t mean I can’t still share my ‘Goldilocks is a horrible heroine’ arguments, but I need to recognize how youth read fiction – and that it’s decidedly different from the way I do.

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