The Misspellers, by Michael J. Martineck

the-misspellers-by-michael-j-martineck coverGenre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Our Little Secret Press
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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I suppose the only thing harder than writing a review of a children’s book is writing the book itself. For a children’s book to be successful, it needs to reflect the world-view of the age group it’s intended for. This isn’t to say it can’t deal with adult issues, just that it must do so from a child’s point of view. I confess that I haven’t read them, but I’ve seen the movies, and that’s been enough for me to decide that while Harry Potter might be written for children, it deals with some very adult issues. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is especially adult-themed, that theme being racism and discrimination.

The Mispellers isn’t anywhere near the complexity of a Harry Potter book. It’s fluff, much like Goosebumps or Shivers, intended to serve up a few hours of reading entertainment without hiding social issues underneath. To that end, it does pretty much what it sets out to do without too many missteps.

Jack Oliver is the youngest and is tired of all the hand-me-downs. He takes a job as a paper boy to earn money so he can buy his own stuff. Yet one of the houses on his route is very strange, and not just because of the horrible smell that always seems to surround it, but also because of the odd character, Mr. Bough, who lives there.

Carlin’s new to Strawberry Island and hasn’t yet made any friends. With her professional parents always gone working, she is often under the care of her older sister. In the short time Carlin has lived on Strawberry Island, she has developed the habit of waiting by the paper box for the paperboy to deliver. On this particular day, she decides to help Jack deliver the rest of his papers. At Mr. Bough’s odd, smelly house, he surprises them by leaving them in charge, as he has been called out on an urgent errand.

Being the nosy kids they are (and as most kids are) they poke around the strange items they find in Mr. Bough’s house, items including a cauldron, what seems to be chemistry equipment, and numerous old, leather-bound books. The books are written in a strange language, and when they use a translator program on Carlin’s laptop computer to try to figure out what they say, the fun really begins.

From my admittedly adult perspective, some of the events of the book push past the edge of suspension of disbelief. Martineck is walking a fine line: the age group that would best enjoy this story (I estimate 12 – 14) is perilously close to the age group that would begin discounting some of the more unbelievable events. There are some big holes here, but their final size and whether they’re noticed or not depends heavily on the person reading it.

I don’t think many adults would enjoy this book, even those that enjoyed the Harry Potter series or Narnia or the young adult books by Alexander Lloyd (as I did). I think I’d classify this as more of an old child book as opposed to a young adult. The story moves quickly, the characters are likable, and, for the most part, Martineck does a good job capturing the attitudes and reactions of his child protagonists. Children that are fans of Goosebumps, Animorphs, or other similar type series/stories, will most likely have a good time with The Misspellers.

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