Dear Gitty Daneshvari,
Madeleine (fear of spiders), Theo (afraid something terrible is going to happen to his family), Lulu (fear of confined spaces), and Garrison (fear of water) are returning for a second summer at the School of Fear, quite against their wills. The children are convinced they've already been cured of their phobias, although that turns out not to be the case. They are joined by new student, Hyacinth (fear of being alone), as they...ummm, waste time for about 200 pages before trying to save their school from closing.
Yeah, I know it's a horrible summary, but I had very little to work with. I'm all sorts of upset that this ended up not being good. I thought it was going to be awesome, and got my expectations up. In full disclosure, I have not read the first School of Fear, but when I read the letter the students were sent at the beginning of the book that started out, "Much like homework, pimples, and puberty, your second summer at School of Fear is not optional." I thought, "Aha! It's going to be in that delightful Lemony Snicket style which I love! That The Mysterious Howling (Jon Klassen) did so nicely. All pithy and tongue in cheek! Fabulous!" Oh how wrong I was. It was supposed to be in that pithy, tongue in cheek style which I love. I could tell. However it failed. Hard. It was not funny. I don't think I even smiled once after that opening line.
The writing was unimpressive and repetitive. And when I say repetitive, I actually mean the same words were used over and over again. Example:
"I'm feeling a little dizzy," Theo said dramatically. "Maybe it's a brain tumor." "Seriously, Theo, relax," Garrison added before shaking his head at the dramatic boy."
You just used dramatic to describe Theo. Pick another word. This is like, 8th grade English class here. Or, how about this:
"Once out, the young girl immediately hunched over to regain her composure. The ride down the mountain had been a long and painful affair. Never mind that it was only four minutes; it felt like hours to Lulu. As the young girl breathed deeply..."
I wish I had been keeping a running tally of how many times "young girl" was used.
OK, so I was disappointed that it wasn't funny, and in that style which I really like that I had been expecting. I didn't like the writing. However, none of that was actually the main problem. The main problem was that this book wasn't about anything. It was 200 pages of waste of time, and then 100 pages of set up for the next book. The entire first part of the book is everyone wondering who's been burglarizing the School of Fear? Who could it be? Why would they want to do such a thing? Then off we go to the Boston Common to meet the supposed burglar, stopping to spend some time in jail, before we end up at a dog show of sorts to find out that the burglar was...two random people who didn't like how Mrs. Wellington was treating her dog? And who then just leave? And that's it? What? No one knows about the school, how did they know where to find this dog? Or know what she had a dog? That made no sense whatsoever, and then it was over. Oh, but Hyacinth had told some reporter at the dog show about the school and now the reporter is going to REVEAL ALL and that will be the end of the School of Fear, which the children need because they aren't over their phobias, so they must save the school. THAT actually felt like the plot, even though it didn't turn up for 200 pages. And then just as that gets going, book over, to be continued in the third one.
Where's an editor when you need one? To say, "Look, you've got some good ideas, but we need some more focus. How about the second book be about them saving the school, and think up something else entirely for the third one? Also, here, borrow my thesaurus."
School of Fear: Class is Not Dismissed came out on September 14th.