Reviewing the Review

So over at SF Site, Paul Kincaid reviewed Pat Murphy’s The Wild Girls, and wasn’t all that impressed. But the fabulous Literaticat has responded to the review ably, point by point, and reached the conclusion that this is actually the best middle grade book of the year.

How had I not heard about this one? Making note to get a copy, stat.

Updated: Niall has further thoughts related to the topic.

18 thoughts on “Reviewing the Review”

  1. It may be possible for a novel to be the best middle-grade book of the year and still disappoint a reviewer who doesn’t regularly read middle-grade books.

  2. I just got it – so it’s on the biggest TBR stack in the history of the world (or at least in the history of me! ha!)
    I agree with Ted – reviewing MG novels is a lot harder than most adults realize.

  3. Sure, but it’s also possible for the reviewer to have mishandled the book in question critically. Jennifer has impeccable taste and is extremely widely read, so I tend to trust her problems with the review itself.

  4. (Just trying to play devil’s advocate here) Isn’t it possible that someone would read the book as a Pat Murphy book, as a Pat Murphy book, and not as a middle grade book? Not that there’s an either/or choice. But maybe that’s where the confusion sets in. That might be an interesting review in of itself, to take those kinds of questions of audience into account.
    Also–and I hope I don’t get jumped on for saying this–I didn’t think Kincaid’s review of the book was so hot either, and it was valuable and illumination to have More Information, but I guess I don’t understand the “yeah you get him” tone of the comments after the review of the review. (Say that five times twice.)

  5. Yeah, I actually don’t think that Jennifer was arguing it should necessarily be _read_ any differently, but that if you’re going to make the distinction that it’s “YA” then you should get what it is right. And there is a difference between YA and middle grade, often a fairly sizeable one. OTOH, some of the best books — out of any category — I’ve read this year have been middle grade books (A Drowned Maiden’s Hair leaps to mind), and the age group they were for didn’t affect the way I read them at all. The intended audience might, however, have played a part had I been reviewing them.
    As for the tone of the comments, I think it’s the exact same emotion a lot of us have or that is often expressed when someone inadvertently slams SF in the mainstream press and it gets responded to (see Dave Itzkoff or any review that says something isn’t science fiction because it’s literary), only in this case it’s the same kind of clueless take on a children’s title by an adult reviewer in a genre outlet. I thought the Strange Horizons review of Flora Segunda had some similar issues.

  6. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding things, but I think that when we in the genre complain about how SF is perceived by certain literary critics, part of what we’re saying is that the critics aren’t employing the appropriate protocols when they read SF. So, if Literaticat is making a similar complaint about Paul Kincaid’s review, then I think that does imply that the book should be read differently.

  7. What I find sometimes reading so many MG and YA books is that there are those that seem to appeal regardless of the reader’s age (Cecil Castellucci’s work would fit in here or the KIki Strike book), some that seem to appeal more to adults that kids (I think “King Dork” is an example of this to a certain degree) and then those that adults might think are okay, but kids really go nuts over. But all of them are books for kids and for reviewers not used to wading around in these waters, it can get easy to mislabel or misread something.
    It is very easy if you don’t review kid books all the time to not realize the difference between MG and YA but I think where Kincaid shows his weakness in this review is right at the beginning when he writes:
    “This is writing reduced to a simple lesson in life, light, appealing and entertaining but very definitely aimed at a younger audience by removing any doubts, hesitations or darker aspects.”
    From his own synopsis there is a lot of darkness in this book (does there have to blood and gore for a book to be “dark”?) as Jennifer rightly points out. And Kincaid’s failure to see the irony in referring to a MG book as “definitely aimed at a younger audience” is pretty funny. I think he read this title expecting something else – or perhaps wanting it to be something else.
    That’s a mistake pretty much all of us have made at one time or another and hopefully after reading resulting comments he will not make it again.

  8. I think we in SFland are sometimes reluctant to realize that other genres get (perhaps different) ghetto treatment at times.
    Anyway, I do think you’re right, Ted, that sometimes that is one of the things being expressed. But I also think that sometimes we’re angry because the critics in question _don’t_ read SF as they would any other book — these critics must clarify something isn’t SF because if it was, it wouldn’t be okay for them to like it while still engaging their critical faculties. It isn’t so much the lack of the right reading protocols I’m angered by in those circumstances as the reader’s agenda — I think the reader’s agenda is perhaps at fault here (though not having read the book, I don’t know that for sure). That agenda being based on a faulty perception of what the book is and judging it as simplified and therefore childish without thinking about what that would actually mean; childhood not being all innocence and pink cotton candy, and certainly not from the sound of it represented as such by this book.
    Which is, of course, not to say that those same statements don’t rub someone else the wrong way because they seem to ignore the reading protocols. I can’t speak for Jenn, only for my reading of the whole thing.

  9. jennifer, aka literaticat

    I was just irritated because I really liked the book and I felt like it was getting short shrift — because, yeah, he was reviewing it as if it was SUPPOSED to be SF or YA, just because that is what Pat Murphy has written before.
    And I thought it was lame that he found fault with it for some of its GOOD qualities (like being accessible to children, for example), and didn’t seem to notice or acknowledge some of its simple and elegant beauty.
    I didn’t want to start a tempest in a teacup. I know, different readers see different things, etc etc, it isn’t any big deal — I was just irritated for the moment. It really is my favorite MG of the year, I’m not just saying that to be hyperbolic, so I guess I feel a little irrationally invested in it.
    Anway, you might be having trouble finding it because it isn’t properly out yet – later this week.

  10. I’m wondering if there’s a difference between reader expectations and reading protocols. For instance, Scott’s latest book, Extras, is getting some hate from a few readers because they went in expecting it to be the continuing adventures of the main characters from the Uglies trilogy and they were incensed that it’s about someone entirely different. They read it with the expectation of lots of time spent in Tally’s head and when they didn’t get it they hated the book.
    So Kincaid disliking the Murphy could be because of what he expected which led to him reading it differently. (As people have said above.) I think that’s different to Delany’s notion of reading protocols wherein clauses like “her world exploded” etc mean entirely different things depending on whether it’s sf or mainstream.

  11. whoa. this is fascinating stuff.
    (i am pat’s editor.)
    i will send a bound galley to you, o commenters, if you promise to blog about it.
    email me: sharyn dot november at us penguingroup com
    betsy: i thought you knew about every book in the known universe.

  12. that was an incorrect email address. correct email:
    sharyn dot november at us dot penguingroup dot com
    i’m waiiiiiiiiiiiiiting!

  13. I’ve already got it Sharyn – and yes, I’ll be writing about it! (Must read all these books…must write about all these books…must work on my own damn book…..NEED MORE HOURS IN THE DAY!)

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