Four real reviews this year! Look at me go!
Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voekel
Published: It was first published in 2007 by Smith and Sons, Inc, but this revised edition was released in 2010 by Egmont USA. I miss you, Egmont. You were good to this blog.
Genre: MG Fantasy/Adventure
Page Count: 400 pages of story, plus a glossary, some extra neat fact pages, and a recipe for chicken tamales.
Part of a series? Yes, there are four books in the Jaguar Stones series, with the fourth just released in February 2015 concluding the series.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. In 2010. I am horrible, and I apologize. My procrastination literally outlasted the publisher. But, hey, four reviews in 2015 so far! This year is looking up so far!
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound
Summary (from goodreads): Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy, video-gamer extraordinaire, is furious when his archaeologist parents cancel the family vacation to go on a dig in Central America. But things go from bad to worse when Max is summoned to join them, only to discover that his parents have vanished. With the help of Lola, a fast-talking, quick-thinking Maya girl, Max embarks on a quest to find out just what’s going on. Soon Max and Lola are running for their lives in the perilous rain forest, as they unlock ancient secrets, meet mysterious strangers, and begin to understand that, in San Xavier, nothing is ever as it seems.
Fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to Max Murphy. But can a teen whose biggest talent is for video games rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save himself from the villainous Lords of Death?
Review: I liked the adventurous toned of this one, and the lush, wonderful setting, but I had problems with it, too. I have five pages of review notes, guys. I love the idea of this. I love the idea of having more books about things like the Mayan people. I actually mentioned this to a friend while I was reading it, and she mentioned she'd seen it looking up the newest Percy Jackson book, and that is a great comparison. The lessons about history, and the Mayan culture and it's deep, wonderful roots are incredibly well incorporated.
But then there are other things. Boy, are there some other things. And as much as I liked a lot of the rest of this book, those things really throw me off. But we'll get to that in good time!
Plot Talk: Max's parents go off to do a dig in Central America. Max gets mysteriously called there only to find they've quite literally disappeared. Max gets into many, many adventures and has to save the world, basically. The summary's up there, I'm not good at this. I will say, though, that there is a ton of action in this. There's a lot of action, and it starts very early in the book. The history and backstory is done in a way that I don't think kids would find boring.
Characters: Max is pretty whiny. He has a moment where he realizes what a jerk he's been, but it's not until 200 pages in, and those 200 pages can be a little rough. The kid doesn't like granola bars, for crying out loud. Who doesn't like granola bars?? He also can be very rude and ungrateful, and a little racist sometimes, honestly. I don't think he's entirely unrealistic. This is, in fact, a very real-feeling way for a kid to react to being left alone by his parents too much, and thinking he's not interesting enough for his parents. But it's still kind of annoying.
Lola was cool, but her character was somewhat inconsistent sometimes. One minutes she's rafting through rapids in the dark with people shooting at them and completely calm, and the next she's crying over a chicken dying? Girls can obviously be nuanced, and varied, but... it seemed to out of character.
The characters are fine, but a lot of the time they seemed pretty stereotypical. Some of them I believe were meant to be that way, since the book laughs at them about it, but others are played straight, and it doesn't work well. Lola and several other characters veer towards Magical Mayan at times, and that's kind of... problematic. I'll go more into that later, as well, but I look at Lola, and I am just not satisfied.
PG-13 stuff: There's one joke about "jackass bitters" being mistaken for cursing, some toilet humour that I didn't really find that funny, and some violence/scary imagery, but other than that, I don't think there would be anything to worry about.
Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: This is a book about Mayan people, and their gods and culture. It stars a white boy who is the Chosen One. Why is a white boy so special? Why isn't this Lola's story instead, or a Mayan boy? It really ventures into White Saviour territory. I fully believe the authors love this culture, but I question whether this is truly telling their story, or just telling their story through white eyes.
There are things they do also that are probably because they're aimed at a young audience, but I think do that audience a disservice. Many characters who speak two languages say things in their native language, and then repeat them basically word for word in English, even when they're not talking to Max. That is solely so we know what is happening, and I think it comes off as really inauthentic.
I question if the references aren't somewhat dated. Are kids 10+ still into Lord of the Rings? Swiss Family Robinson? There's a reference to Jurassic Park - before Jurassic World, were today's kids really into that movie still? I'm 23, and I only saw that movie when I was like 20 because I told my uncle I had never seen it, and he immediately went and got the DVD and insisted we all watch it. The book in general is somewhat dated already since we've long-passed December 21st, 2012, which is part of the plot, obviously.
Last, there are some really fatphobic moments. There's one time when Max mentions tourists as "overfed". He's seeing them from a boat across the river and has never met them before. How does he know they're overfed? What does overfed mean when you're looking at strangers? Later, one of the gods of death who is presented as very evil is also described as "enormously, disgustingly fat", and Max at first things someone bought a fat suit because... fat people don't exist in this world? He is the only fat character that shows up, so maybe they don't. It's a nice touch, especially, that there's an illustration. It's great seeing the specific weight that is disgustingly fat, especially since the picture doesn't actually look that fat.
Cover comments: The cover is pretty awesome. It shows a scene from the book, which is always something that I think is cool, and it represents both that scene and the characters well.
Conclusion: I can rant about the fatphobia because that's something I know well. I am not qualified to speak on racism as a white person. I only know anything because of wonderful blogs like writingwithcolor who have spoken on the things I've mentioned in this post. In the end, I am not going to be comfortable recommending this to kids as a "diverse" book, or whatever you want to call it, when I feel like there's a strong sense that this would make many people who actually are qualified to speak about these things uncomfortable. It feels like it could be praising something that is just another microaggression for someone, and I'm just not aware enough to recognize it.
I liked the writing, and I think this could be a fun book for people who like Percy Jackson and the like, but I don't want to give people books with stereotypes, fatshaming, and possible racism. I did enjoy reading this! I thought it was fun to read! Some of the twists are really unexpected and clever! But I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. Gosh, I feel so bad to review this five years late, and then give it a bad review. I think kids would probably like this one, but I can't ignore those things.
I don't think I will be looking into the later books in the series, and I'm not sure if I will be keeping this one, or passing it along. I'm going to have to give it only two and a half roses. I'm so sorry!
- I seriously want a smoothie. Or ice cream. Books be making me hungry lately!
- Why couldn't Max go to Italy to stay with his grandmother/other family if he can stay in Boston alone for who knows how long with only the housekeeper to watch him?
- Hope you had a good Valentine's Day! Or a good Sunday, either way.
Peace and cookies,