Note: I belong to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer group and was sent this book January 2008. When I received the book I took one look at the cover and decided that I wasn’t interested in reading it after all. The cover of the book, as you can see in the image to the right, was of a boy with a surprised look on his face as he stares at something floating in front of him. The quality of the drawing made me uncomfortable in the same way as the characters in the movie version of The Polar Express did — they just looked creepy — and not in a good way. The face was too shiny and fake looking and was like a plastic doll that came to life. I cannot really explain my reaction, except that I thought that if the cover looked that bad, the content was probably worse.
I knew that not reading and reviewing the book would affect (or is it effect? I never remember) my chances of receiving another early reviewer title, but at the time I guess I thought it didn’t matter. Perhaps I was over the thrill of getting books before they were published. Then, when I received notice recently that a new batch of early reviewer books were up for grabs I checked them out, just to see what was available. I was excited and surprised to see John Irving’s newest book, Last Night at Twisted River, and clicked the “Request” button, knowing I had very little chance of getting one of the 30 copies the publisher was offering. So, at the end of the month I was more than a little surprised (and delighted) when I received word that I had actually snagged a copy of Last Night at Twisted River.
A few days later I received another note from LibraryThing — they reminded me that I’d indicated that I’d received The 13th Reality: Volume 1 — The Journal of Curious Letters and had not yet reviewed it. So, reluctantly, I located the book and began reading it.
You know the saying about not judging the book by its cover? Well, this book proved that saying true.
[FULL DISCLOSURE NOTICE — Dear FCC & Lawyers: I received this book for free from Random House via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.]
The unfortunately named 13-year-old Atticus “Tick” Higgenbottom is a self-described nerd who chooses to give in to the schoolyard bullies when they torment him, as they frequently do. He’s a straight A student, is on the chess team and loves science. Tick also has a birthmark on his neck that makes him so self-conscious that he covers it, inside and outside, winter and summer, with a long knitted scarf.
One day in November Tick receives a letter postmarked from a small town in Alaska that informs Tick that he’s been chosen to be a part of dangerous and possibly deadly events, but first he needs to solve a series of clues, that are also described as dangerous and possibly deadly. Tick, being curious and good is intrigued by the letter and chooses to not burn it because the letter also explains that if he succeeds in solving the clues he’ll save many lives.
Throughout the next half-year Tick receives many more clues that he attempts to solve with the help of some other chosen teenagers and a cadre of unlikely otherworldly characters.
This book was surprisingly hard to put down. I was never bored reading it and looked forward to reading it each time I picked it up. It kept my attention — even when sitting on bleachers in a noisy gym during a wrestling tournament. It even scared me a little, especially when Tick heard noises in his bedroom shortly after receiving the first letter:
“Late that night, after watching the movie Dad had brought home–a creepy sci-fi flick where the hero had to travel between dimensions to fight different versions of the same monster–Tick lay on his bed alone, reading the letter once again. Night had fallen hours earlier and the darkness seemed to creep though the frosted window, devouring the faint light from his small bedside lamp. Everything lay in shadow, and Tick’s mind ran wild, imagining all the spooky things that could be hiding in the darkness.
A noise from the other side of his room cut him out of his thoughts. He leaned on his elbow to look, a quick shiver running down his spine. It had sounded like the clank of metal against wood, followed by a quick burst of whirring–almost like the hum of a computer fan, but sharper, stronger–and it had lasted only a second or two before stopping.”
I think that the storyline in this book is very good and rather unique. It takes the good vs. evil theme and makes it readable, even for a middle-aged grown-up like me. I imagine it would appeal to upper elementary school students, especially if they like science fiction or fantasy stories. The characters are moderately well developed, although everyone but Tick and perhaps his father, seem a little one-dimensional. Sophia, Tick’s friend from Italy is a rich smart-alack but we know little else about her. Paul, their friend from California is full of himself and seems to like sports, but what else? Rutger is portly and likes to eat. Mothball is tall and kind. I would have liked the supporting characters to be a little more fleshed out.
My other problem with this book was the author’s voice. Voice is usually a good thing in stories, however Mr. Dashner’s voice is too strong in this story. It comes through in all the characters. His sense of humor is slightly stilted — as if he’s working to hard to get a laugh out of a group of bored businessmen and has no idea how to do it, but thinks he does. The humor also seems dated. I cringed and had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach several times in most chapters — thinking that the characters’ words could have been different and the meaning would have come across just as well, or better.
Maybe the voice works for school-aged readers — perhaps the humor is just right for 5th graders — but I suspect not. I think that Mr. Dashner has an incredible imagination and for the most part wrote a book that will keep many readers engrossed, however the delivery of the story needs a little refinement. I’m not sure I’ll read the next installment of The 13th Reality, although the first volume left me wanting more (which is a good thing with the first book in a series).Perhaps I will read it, though — perhaps the writing style has changed a little. Maybe I’ll read some of his newer books as well, because I think this guy has potential.
I am going to Barnes & Noble on Friday to see this author. From the voice in the book (and on his website), he seems like a likable guy. I only wish I could have given this book a better review, but maybe I needed to be male and in the 5th grade to really like it.