The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson by Quinn Sosna-Spear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A little disjointed at times, this strange and unique middle grade book has a lot to digest (even for an adult). I feel like it tries to do too much and that takes away from what the core story should be. While I felt like there was an attempt to have a fun and dream-like tone and story; Quinn Sosna-Spear misses the mark for me in some key areas including plot and use of flashbacks.
It's only at the 32% mark in which our two children actually take off on their journey together! Just a bit too much introduction and info dumping for my taste to start with. This is a classic quest set-up with our two main characters setting out into the big wide world. Nothing really different from other stories happens. There's a balloon incident (Wizard of Oz), giants (Jack and the Beanstalk), quirky inventors and some odd honeybees. All were unique in their own way as encounters but none of them stood out to me as especially unique or even all that exciting.
There are a few noteworthy or odd things that happen or are said in this book that I highlighted while reading and I feel like they are worth coming back to. These descriptions begin to really give a sense of why I wasn't a huge fan of this book.
In the opening few pages we meet a teacher who is intentionally teaching children the wrong things! From spelling, math and geography; this teacher gives the kids the wrong answers to things; and she does it knowingly. I'm not sure what the point was of this teacher but it really bothered me that this character (already a brief presence) existed at all. Unless of course the reason was to give our children an "excuse" to run away from school? (ie: they weren't being taught properly anyways?)
One of the first towns we encounter sounds exactly like H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth. I'm going to assume this is not intentional (?) as this is a children's book and there wouldn't really be a reason to pay homage to a horror writer in a fantasy middle-age story. However; given the Lovecraft Innsmouth town use in the recent blockbuster DC comics hit 'Aquaman' and a bit of a resurgence of Lovecraft's settings and monsters being used by many adult fantasy/horror writers; I can't help but wonder if it was coincidence or not. There is nothing wrong with this homage or use of Innsmouth (as it's a clever way to explain evolution); it just struck me as a bit odd and made me wonder if Sosna-Spear wasn't creative enough to come up with her own quirky town.
This reminds me a bit of Ronald Dahl in that there’s a lot of nonsense in it and dialogue that circles itself. Where each character says the same thing a different way and they are confirming their understanding of one another. It's really annoying as an adult to read this. And frankly, as a child I found Dahl to be a bit boring at times because it took him soooo long to describe one thing or have one quick conversation. Perhaps this is just me and it's helpful to children to read the same thing over again in a different way to help with comprehension. If that is the case I will conceded that it is clearly appropriate for this middle-age book.
My ongoing hatred of poorly used flashbacks continues. I don't understand why we get the POV of Walter's Mother closer to the end of the story in the current day; never mind her flashbacks. It feels like Sosna-Spear wasn't able to write the story in a clever enough way to have Walter unveil the secrets for the readers and instead Sosna-Spear gives us two sides of the same story so we can put it together (albeit slightly) sooner than our main children do. The purpose is still beyond me except to maybe ensure the reader knows what is/has happened.
The biggest pet peeve of this book I have is the use of flashbacks. If you want to change POVs without too much context I don't tend to mind. But switching what timeline is being described is a huge no-no to me. If I'm getting slightly lost trying to figure out of the Mother's POV was current day or past I don't even want to think about the struggle a 9-year-old child might have. It was just too much work near the end of the story (especially given the ease of reading the prior sections of the book) to keep things straight.
So I hold to my usual comment: if you don't know how to set-up and use flashbacks, then please don't use them at all. Tolkien uses flashbacks poorly and emulating his wizard battle flashback from Fellowship will always be a bad idea!
I nearly didn't finish reading The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson. Honestly, had it not been relatively short and easy to read I may have put it aside. 3 stars is probably a bit generous of a rating for me. And yet I will say there is some magic here and the children are fairly well put together characters. If a child was to read this as one of their first fantasy-style stories I could seem them being enamored as it's not 'bad' so much as it's just boring and very plain given the plethora of middle-age fantasy that is available to readers which has a much better plot and writing style.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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