With the release of the Mocking Jay movies soon the internet will be reignited with comments about the general disapproval of the trilogies ending and wonderings if the film will be just the same. You can probably already find online different levels of disappointment with its ending. While I did have the odd problems or two with it it was far from my first book disappointment. I’ve had them as far back as my when my reading craze first started.
When people tell you to not judge a book by its cover they usually mean don’t underestimate it. But in these cases it’s just as true to not judge a book by its cover to not overestimate them either. That being said, here are the 5 books that let me down the most.
Note: as I said above, these books range from all different age groups as they were read throughout varying years of life between 13-22.
#5 Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island
What I Got– Minimal use of the island and its history that ends around midnight
Despite what the cover would have you believe, at no point does our protagonist ever have a knife so it’s already not as good as it appears.
Little Danny has unwittingly ticked off The Outlaws who are kind of like the middle ground between high school bullies and a legitimate street gang; they never killed anyone but they might has well have. And to be fair Eve Bunting does a decent job of making these non-murders as threatening as you can when she’s not giving them names like Jellybean and Cowboy.
In a moment of no other option Danny boards a ferry to Alcatraz Island to escape them. They end up following him there and his further plans to evade them fail. Suddenly he is stuck on the island with them at night. It IS a suspenseful set up. I was drawn to it because of my own love for Alcatraz and its history and I was ready for the book to work in some of that as Danny must avoid the Outlaws throughout the night slipping through their grasp several times until morning. But as I’ll say with all of these books, that wasn’t the case.
Only a few locations on the island are touched upon. The cell block, the water tower and the solitary confinement cell. Thats really about it. They might have been able to cover every part of the island if they’d had more time but nope, all the problems are solved and they’re off the island before 1 AM.
With my fondness for Alcatraz and I can’t believe that the author who shares that love wrote a book that comes close to pretty much waisting the setting.
Probably a bigger problem compared to my preference problem is that Danny’s background is fairly underwritten. The story starts right when he’s being chased by the outlaws onto the island. The reason they’re after them is told in sort of a flash back so we really have to learn about Danny’s past as the story goes on, which isn’t much. They try to work in something about his dad’s influence on him at one point but it’s not even utilized enough to call it a cliche.
While most of these books fail to me because of my own preference, I give this one the least-worst marks because it’s the one most influenced by preference, but don’t worry the books do get worse….
What I Got– Last minute surprises to justify the single secret reveal that is hard to believe.
The most recent one I read on this list and incidentally probably the best one writing-wise, but not exactly plot-wise. Its plot?
30 years ago a hitchhiking brother and sister named Aaron and Abby are picked up by a recently released felon, Richie, on their way to the family lake house. Richie and Abby take a liking to each other and while they are making love in the lake house bedroom the brother drunkenly charges in in an angry rage and Richie shoots him.
Flash forward In the books present time, the gun used to shoot Aaron is uncovered which opens up the case of his “mysterious” death that isn’t mysterious to the reader because we know it. A journalist, Frank, becomes fascinated by the case and dives head-first into it despite what every one else tells him to do. The book’s back cover even says that the gun’s discover “shatters the peacefulness of a town. Solving the puzzle of a long ago murder will leave scars that will not be easily forgotten.” It would almost seem that this murder is bigger than it even appeared in the opening. Maybe more people got involved and Frank will uncover some skeletons in the town peoples’ closets. It certainly seems to be going that way at first. Everyone is begging him not to continue this search and constantly showing no remorse over the victim who it turns out was a real pain in the ass to everyone he met.
EVERYONE FRANK INTERVIEWS: “Well, you know I shouldn’t say anything bad about the dead, BUT….”
As it turns out that the BIG murder only had one other person behind it. It turns out while Richard was in a state of shock having shot someone Abby smothered her brother after he was shot to convince Richard to hide the evidence. He still believed he killed him. They left the body to be found somewhere else, threw the gun in the lake and later got married with him taking the name Chuck.
The back cover’s summary further oversells the ending with “The secrets come together in a stunning climax that will always be remembered.” Few things, it was NOT stunning, didn’t seem much like a climax, and was NOT memorable. Did I mention the only reason he finds this out is because she tells him the truth in confidence trying to free her husband of the blame. First off, it has nothing to deal with Franks’s sleuthing ability. He didn’t interrogate it out of her. She gave in willingly for a selfless reason. And there was NO WAY he ever could have figured this out without her telling him. Only she knew. Secondly, I wasn’t even sure whether to believe this or not. I really just though she was making it up to get her husband off the hook. Yes she did a terrible thing to him letting him hold the guilt but she also didn’t need to confess. Like I said, there was never any danger of anyone finding out unless she told. Even if she didn’t kill her brother, he still fired a gun at him, he was getting time for that. Unless the self-defense excuse would have flown but then it would have worked either way whether it was what killed him or not. There’s just a lot of muddled thoughts there.
After she confesses to Frank, he wonders what to do until he has this random revelation that Abby sexually abused him when he was a kid and that those memories had been repressed until now. ….. I’m sorry, what? Where did that come from? It’s like the writer suddenly realized she needed a reason to not feel bad about turning Abby in so he made up this excuse out of nothing. And people say the the reasoning in the twist in Perfect Stranger was out -of-nowhere.
When he confronts her with the truth in front of her husband, now enraged that she led him to believe he was fully responsible for the death, she panics and swims out onto the lake where she drowns. THAT was the “stunning climax?!” All we have is her questionable conffession and the protagonist sudden epiphany of child abuse. All the while I’m still not convinced.
It doesn’t help that I finished this book around 12:30 one night when I couldn’t fall asleep. “Well….what now?”
Side note: I do suggest Elizabeth Fackler’s Barbed Wire. There’s an example of a book I liked even though it went a different direction than I wanted.
#3 The Gypsy Game-
What I Expected/Wanted– the Egypt Game but with Gypsies
What I Got– Focus on a single character as he becomes part of a clumsy message about helping the homeless
The Egypt Game was a nice reminder of child hood imaginations. A two girls discover a hidden storage yard where after school they decide to make shrines, perform ceremonies, and anything involving their love of ancient Egypt. Throughout the book the group begins to grow until there is 6 “Egyptians” instead of just 2. It was nice read when I was younger and it was fun seeing the ingenuity these kids had. The book starts to end dourly when the two main girls have a talk about how they suddenly feel they have done everything they could with Egypt and that the game is suddenly over. But there is a last minute hint of optimism when it is implied that the game might continue with Gypsies.
Last in line in the Egypt Game: “Melanie, what do you know about gypsies?”
First line in the Gypsy Game: “Not very much I guess. Why?”
Already, that ending makes you dependent on reading the sequel lest you want to end with a disappointing final page. The Gypsy Game had a bar to live up to, but not huge. Quite attainable actually. Get us back to that childlike fun but with the Gypsy culture this time and that’s really it. Throw in a few at-home problems that they use the game to cope with and you got it. This should have been a much simpler and fun book.
Instead they made it unnecessarily complicated by having Toby, one character from the 6-person group ,suddenly becoming the main focus when his at-home problem becomes bigger than the story should have allowed. Toby fears that some men will take him away if they find that his father is an unfit parent so he runs away from the home he doesn’t want to be taken away from (?) and ends up living with some vagabonds. This carry’s on for most of the book in stead of the kids having fun with their research on gypsies.
At one point when it looks like there’s a glimmer of hope that the story might start to focus on the game instead of Toby it explicitly say: “So that was that. Not really the end of straightening out the Gypsy problem, of course, but pretty much the end of thinking and talking about it for a while. But not the end of worrying about Toby.”
NO! Go BACK to what you were doing! Screw the side story and give me what I WANT!
I don’t think I’ve ever read something in a book that was just so the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I wanted to read. This after-school club turned into an after-school special. I guess at some point you’re supposed to be surprised by the fact that him being on the lam with homeless people is supposed to mirror how real gypsies’ lives were but that just takes what was supposed to be a very fun creative story and suddenly replacing the fun with a needlessly mature theme.
Even so I read this book pretty fast, but that was mainly because I was sure once I got far enough in the story I’d get past all the preachy messages and eventually find the story I loved. I never got that story though. Like by a real gypsy, I got robbed.
#2 Are You in the House Alone?
What I Got- The antagonist being revealed and raping the protagonist all at the end of the 2nd act
Richard Peck is an impressive writer. There is no denying that. And the set-up for this book was a call-back to old-fashioned thrillers with babysitters receiving threatening calls and whatnot. Gail has been getting weird calls lately followed by a threatening notes filled with all the things this demented stalker wants “do to her.” The book even goes the secretive route by not ever saying what the note says. It only has every character who reads it remarking that it is the most repulsive thing imaginable. Like Arson, the book really starts off with a promising mystery but it all hinges on it’s reveal and resolution. Arson at least had a decent understanding of a mystery story’s pacing.
But what ruins Are You in the House Alone? is approximately at the end of the second act, the guy who has been leaving her threatening messages is revealed and then he rapes her. No I’m not kidding. All the stuff he said he wanted to do to her. He does it. He got away with it. Yeah. So not only is the mystery cut short but the rest of the book is people telling her “You can’t report him to the police! Do you have any idea how powerful that family is in this town?” Basically, even as a rape victim, the most quintessential victim there is, the law is not your friend.
The boy’s crimes eventually do come to light after he attacks another girl but even then his consequences are not ever made clear. It’s said that he’s moved to boarding school in a distant state and that’s about it.
A story about a rape victim having to fight to be heard might not be a terrible idea on its own, but being paired with a mystery neither story really gets its full due. Heck maybe it could have worked as a book and its sequel, with the first being the mystery ending with the reveal/cliffhanger and the second being about the aftermath/trial. But as is, the book closes with a kind of line that you use to end a chapter, but not an entire novel.
“But what?” Mother said. “What could we do?” And then she turned back to her work.
What I Expected/Wanted– A towns watery grave of a history uncovered by 3 friends.
What I Got– A cliche gimmicky story with one note characters thats plot doesn’t start until halfway through I read this when I was 13 and even then I realized that this was meant for a younger set but only slightly, probably 9-12 but can you blame my misconception? Look at that cover! And that title! That beautiful cover doesn’t belong on a this wannabe book. It belongs on the cover of a National Geographic.
I even laughed when on the back they referred to this book as “a novel.” I’m sorry but you can’t call a book a “novel” when the font is bigger than the width. Add the wide margins and double spaced lines and you can tell they were really stretching this book like a high school essay to begin with. But why no pictures on every other page? Not only would that have doubled your length but it would have been a general sign to me and other recent teens that this was not for our age demographic.
The town suffers from extreme hydrophobia stemming from a devastating flood in their past to the point that no one has a swimming pool and there are even restrictions on how much water you can run. All of this makes it hell for two of the three main characters. Why? Because they love the water.
They’re brothers named Trevor and Eli but they go by Trout and Eel, their favorite foods are sushi and tuna, they like the color blue, they had there room painted blue to remind them of the sea, they are both great at swimming, one of them has a prized seashell he can’t sleep without, they add salt to their drinking water- OH MY GOD! WE GET IT! They are all things oceanic! I’m sure the writer just forgot to leave off
Favorite Movie: The Little Mermaid
Favorite Tv show: Spongebob
Favorite Vacation Destination: Sea World
Pet Peeve: Oil Spills
And we haven’t even gotten to the third main character yet. Their friend Martha has-
1. a dead mother
2. dreams of becoming a dancer
3. a father being hit on by woman who doesn’t like children
Yeah it’s not worth going into detail about her either.
And that is quite literally the entire first half of the book. The second half is the actual “plot.” The three decide to runaway, but when they leave, it starts raining heavily to the point it begins flooding the town just like before. They then head back and help save the day even rescuing a bully of theirs mentioned in one sentence in the first half. Even for the 90’s this book didn’t have a single original thought.
In the end the brothers’ swimming and capabilities saves the town from the flood and they are celebrated. Then the boys and their parents decide to move to a place near the ocean because why the hell not?
Undoubtedly the worst written one on this list, this one probably makes #1 for also being my first let-down book. It’s always hard to top the first one. Seriously though! That cover!