Monday, March 16, 2009

Zorgamazoo

A young girl named Katrina Katrell has a gift for spying the unusual, the strange, the things that no one else has the time or inclination to look for. Unfortunately for her, this ability is not something her nasty governess, Mrs. Krabone, appreciates. The book opens as Katrina catches a glimpse of something truly unusual on the subway. When she tries to tell Mrs. Krabone what she's seen, her governess has had enough:

You listen to me. This lying must end.
When we get home, here is what I intend:
I will call up my friend, a Lobotomy Doc,
a talented man at the butchery block.

His scalpels are polished to shimmering shine.
He'll slice from your eye to the top of your spine.

He'll cut from your brow to the top of your head.
Your brain? He'll replace it with something instead,
something quite nice, lie a pastry or cake,
or why not a succulent caribou steak?

your original brain, he will lock in a box.
For that's what they do, those Lobotomy Docs.
Yes, the entire book is written in rhyming verse, just like that, and the story leans toward the dark and creepy. Poor Katrina has parents, but they simply do not care about her; they travel around and take no interest in her at all. And Mrs. Krabone's lobotomy doc is no empty threat: that very night the doctor arrives, and Katrina, hearing him describe in grotesque detail exactly what he intends to do to her, escapes through her bedroom window.

Meanwhile, in a part of the world hidden from humans (except for those sharp-eyed ones like Katrina), there lives a Zorgle named Morty - in fact, he's the very creature that Katrina spied from the subway platform. He is a timid sort, unlike his dauntless, adventurous father - but his father is in the hospital, very ill, and Morty spends a lot of time with him. But despite Morty's timidity, he suddenly finds himself sent on a quest - a dangerous, adventuresome quest - and he's not sure he's up to it. Luckily he runs into Katrina, and the two of them pair up. It turns out they make a pretty good team.

I read this book to my children (ages 8 and 10), and they both enjoyed it, although the older one was more enthusiastic. The younger one found that the rhymes made things a bit difficult to understand, especially at first, until she got used to it. The idea of writing an entire book in rhyming verse is truly impressive, and it felt like Weston really had fun with the language. That's always fun to see, especially in a book for children.

The plot was full of interesting twists and turns, and my girls were always curious to see what was going to happen next. I would have enjoyed the book more had there been more character development. At one point, poor Morty does something particularly clumsy, and Katrina really lets him have it. She's uncharacteristically nasty, which made me lose a bit of sympathy for her, and that lapse was never truly addressed to my satisfaction. It was a bit odd, but there was something about reading this book aloud, with the unchanging rhythm of the text, that made me incredibly sleepy, every time we read it. It made my eyelids grow unaccountably heavy, but judging from the other reviews I've read of this book, I am alone in experiencing this side effect.

I occasionally felt that the story and characters took a back seat to the language and rhyming, and occasionally I grew impatient with, for example, pages of description about an object of minor importance to the novel (such as the lottery contraption). All in all, the book was charming and creative, a truly impressive endeavor. And I loved the illustrations, with the creepy, Edward Gorey-esque atmosphere they lent to the narrative. Fans of Dr. Seuss, the Baudelaire orphans and Araminta Spookie will have a fun time with this dark, rhyming romp.

Here is an interview with Robert Paul Weston at Fatalis Fortuna's blog.

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston; illustrated by Victor Rivas (Razorbill, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Educating Alice: "Not only is this whole book in verse, but there’s some fun stuff happening with the story, pages, and such. There’s a very strong authorial voice that is connected to the design. Well done indeed!"
The Fickle Hand of Fate: "This would make an excellent read-aloud and vocabulary builder for younger kids, a great introduction to some of the possibilities in poetry, or just an exciting adventure to read to yourself."
Kiss the Book: "Readers will delight in Weston’s ingenious use of language and his brilliant rhythmic verse. A must read-a-loud for all!"

8 comments:

  1. Another great sounding book I'd never heard of before. You know, some time ago I'd have said I probably wouldn't read a novel in verse, but Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block made me think again :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Francesca Lia Block, but I haven't read that one. Sheesh, you add books to my list even without having to review them! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This sounds like a great one for me to save for the fall and the next R.I.P. Challenge!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hooray - I'm excited that you plan to do the challenge again! I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This sounds like a great read! I like the rhyming kids stories, even if they are a bit slow, it's the rhythms that hold my attention. Sometimes it's fun to imagine whether the writer had a hard time keeping the pace going.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sounds like you will love this one, Joanne!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sounds like the author read a lot of Dr. Seuss as a kid :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ladytink, I think you're right!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment!