Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan

Ribblestrop is a school like no other.  There is no roof.  The teachers are a bit odd, and strange things are going on in the secret underground labyrinth of the building.  The students are an unusual mix as well, from Millie, an arsonist who's been kicked out of her other schools, Sanches, the son of a Colombian gangster, to Sam, who's had the bad luck to fall into the middle of it all.

I did not enjoy.  My expectations were high because Ribblestrop was actually published in the UK in 2009 and won The Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize.  I mostly didn't like it because I felt like it was a book full of unpleasant characters that I didn't care about.  I've had this issue before.  When everyone is unpleasant, it's very hard for me to get invested in the story.  Most unlikable was Millie, and she was suppose to be our antihero.  The problem was she was so unpleasant I wanted someone to put her in her place.  The problem with that was that everyone else was so unpleasant I didn't want them to come out on top either.  So yeah.  I spent the whole book shaking my head over how nasty everyone is. 

A quote from the publisher's website is "With the "crazy-school appeal of Hogwarts and the grim humor of Lemony Snicket" ("The Independent") Ribblestrop is sure to delight the most mischievous among us."  And maybe it will, although I totally disagree with The Independent.  Hogwarts didn't have a "crazy-school" vibe for me, and the tone of Ribblestrop is completely different from A Serious of Unfortunate Events, which I loved.  It didn't have that sly, tongue-in-cheek humor.  There wasn't really any humor in Ribblestrop.

Just because I did not enjoy the book does not mean others won't.  While the nastiness turned me off, that could certainly be an appeal for some kids.  It has adventure and mystery.  It has descriptions of soccer games.  It has a creepy science-fiction sort of twist.  It has a car chase.  I can certainly see how it would appeal.

Aside from Millie, the other characters were either unappealing or undeveloped.  The school has brought in a whole bunch of orphans from overseas.  Some of the orphans get names, most of them don't.  What we know about the orphans is that they're just so delighted to be at the school and will cheerfully do any kind of work needed.  The whole "we've taken in a bunch of orphans from a third-world country and are making them rebuild our school" thing made me a little uncomfortable.  Another main characters is Sanchez, the gangster's son, who's actually fairly decent, but like everyone else gives into Millie and I really wish he hadn't.  He was doing so well telling her to shove off, but then he gave in.  Even Sam, who's supposed to be sweet a lovable annoyed me.  Stand up for yourself, Sam!

But you know what, I did read the whole book.  I didn't give up part way through.  So I guess you win, Ribblestrop.

Ribblestrop comes out August 19, 2014.

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