Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

So, for as long as I've been studying children's literature, professors and other students have regularly commented "Oh, Daniel Pinkwater, superhuman, amazingly, rockingly, brilliant right?"  Or something to that effect.

And I've always had to smile and nod and "hmmm," in reply, because I had a secret.  I'd never read any of Daniel Pinkwater's books.  Ever.

I wasn't completely naive.  I knew of some of the books he'd written (some of the titles he is most famous for were written before I was born).   I'd even heard his voice on NPR on occasion (although I'd noticed that his tastes in children's literature seemed far removed from my tastes).  

But now is the time to cease being a pretending, faking, faker.  I've officially read SEVERAL Pinkwater books.

So there.
Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered GirlPinkwater, D.  (2010).  Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin.

268 pages.

Appetizer:  Big Audrey is from another plane of existence.  She had been visiting Los Angeles but has since relocated to Poughkeepsie, where she works at a UFO bookshop.

While visiting the local insane asylum, she befriends a girl named Molly who has a tendency to notice things that others don't.  They go in search to find aliens and while meeting a number of quirky characters (including an old wise woman, a giant, a family of trolls a wolluf and the much-dreaded Muffin Man), they wind-up on the path to their destinies and to Audrey learning more about where she comes from.

The best way to sum up this book:  Weeeeeeeeird.

It plays with absurdism and as I read I felt myself being pushed to question the way reality is constructed, to question the way that the insane are often perceived, to see the outsiders of society in a new way.

And while all of that is nice...this book was maybe a little too weird for me.

It is also worth noting for the overprotective parents out there, there is mention of getting high toward the end of the book.  Several characters ingest magic bean soup that leaves them in altered states for a time.  (I didn't find this scene in any way offensive.  But it did make me start to wonder whether Pinkwater himself was high while writing.)

I kept trying to figure out if I would like this when I was a middle grade student.  My conclusion is that younger (often impatient) me probably would have put this book back on the shelf after reading the first few pages.

Adult me probably would have done the same if I didn't feel obligated to finish due to everyone everywhere raving about how humorous Pinkwater's books are.

I guess I just don't find the humor in this book.  One of the five or six moments I kanda-sorta found amusing was:

"But it's spooky and scary."
"We'll go in the daytime.  It's not so scary then, is it?"
"Maybe not as" (p. 56)

That made me go "ha."  Silently.  In my head.  Not out loud.  Even after a glass of wine, I still wasn't laughing.  And now, rereading it out of context, I realize you TOTALLY need the context to get anything out of that.  Sigh.

I was amused with the Harold the Giant character who is a short giant, standing at only 5'7''.  But then, it's not polite to draw attention to a person's physical deficits.

I also liked a reference to the classic version of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Pinkwater quotes my dad's favorite scene.  So I actually had to call my dad and read aloud a portion of chapter 61 (very short chapters!).

Logically, I did know that the book way playing with some excellent concepts (like finding a sense of belonging) and the book remixed some folkstories and touches on American history in inventive ways.  And trying to explain the content of the book is a humorous endeavor all it's own.  I can see why someone could fall in love with this book or other of Pinkwater's 100-ish publications.  His writing just doesn't seem to be for me.

And now I'll be forced to feel like an outside among all my peers and teachers because I may be the only one whose immediate reaction to Pinkwater's books is WTF instead of YAYZ!

Dinner Conversation:

"It surprises me how many people don't know there are different planes of existence.  Well, it's not really surprising that you don't know if no one ever explained it to you, so I will do that now" (p. ix).

"I myself came from another plane of existence to this one...Well, it's true that I can't absolutely prove I come from another plane.  However, if you go to the library and get ahold of encyclopedias and National Geographics and certain books, you can find an article with pictures of a typical-looking Inuit, a typical-looking Northern European, a typical-looking Mongolian, a typical-looking Banut, Korean, Australian, Moroccan, and so on...all different types.  All different in minor ways, and all similar in most ways.  It is interesting.  What you will not find is a picture of a girl with cat whiskers and sort of catlike eyes.  That is, until they take a picture of me" (pp. x-xi).

"...Did they make you come to this hospital because you notice things other people don't?"
"No.  I'm actually nuts," she said.  "They put me here hoping to cure me of it."
"And are they doing you any good?" I asked.
"Not really.  I'm hoping it goes away by itself.  My name is Molly" (p. 11).

"Now, it is a fact that even if you have worked out logically that the odds are vastly in favor of life on other planets, even if you have had experience that supports the idea that travel between worlds is not only possible but common, and even if you have actually seen or otherwise had personal experience of spacecraft or flying saucers, when someone else claims to have had an encounter your first thought is to check out whether they are crazy" (p. 32).

Tasty Rating:  !!

1.  Adventures of a Cat Whiskered Girl
2. The Red Pyramid
3.  Children's Folklore
4.  The Invisible Man
5.  Hate List
6.  Plum Spooky

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails