Monday, January 14, 2013

A Tale Dark & Grimm - Adam Gidwitz

Summary:  Reader, beware.  But if you dare...
Follow Hansel and Gretel as they run away from their own story and into eight other scary fairy tales.

They'll encounter witches and warlocks, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens that are just right for baking children...

It may be frightening, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, these are true.  (Summary from book)

My Review:  A Tale Dark & Grimm is the story of Hansel and Gretel, deftly woven with several other tales from the Brothers Grimm.   It is, as the title implies, disturbingly dark and deeply grim, but sprinkled with moments of fancy, wisdom, and wry humor.   

This story begins with the line, "Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome."  I’ll have to admit, I kind of loved it right then and there, regardless of what was to come.  The author goes on to explain that fairy tales used to be cool before people retold them and left out all the scary, bloody, awesome parts.  He cautions parents to read this novel first, and begs, with tongue in cheek, that sensitive little ones leave the room.  I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many kids I know who would put any book down after all that hullaballoo.  I know my interest was piqued.  Could a children’s book really be that bad?!

Yes.  Yes, it can.   It's not often that I have the opportunity to categorize a novel as children's fiction, fairytale and horror, but A Tale Dark & Grimm definitely fits the bill.  Don't believe me?  Okay, but just remember you asked for this (excerpt, pg 102-3, A Smile As Red as Blood):   
"Dear Readers, I'm sorry for what follows.
He threw the girl on the oaken table, and from a nearby cupboard produced a filthy iron cage.  Then he reached his hand into the girl's mouth until his arm was buried deep in her throat.  Slowly, painfully, and with great struggle form the girl, he pulled forth a beautiful white dove.  The dove fought the young man as he shoved it in the filthy cage and slammed the door shut.
The girl’s body was still.
Now you might want to close your eyes. 
He lifted an ax that hung on the wall, and Gretel, peering through a gap between a filthy pot and a filthier pan, watched her handsome, wonderful, funny friend hack the girl's body into bits and toss each piece into the boiling cauldron.  His blunt butcher's knife rose and fell, rose and fell.  He licked the blood from his hands and sent piece after piece sailing into the pot.
Each piece, that is, save one.
On the girl's left hand there was a lovely golden ring, inlaid with rubies, red as rubies can be.  He tried to remove the ring so that it would not ruin the stew, but it wouldn't come off.  Finally in a rage, he hacked the finger clean off her hand and hurled it across the room.  Gretel watched, dumbstruck, as it tumbled through the air, over the enormous pile of pots and pans that she was hiding bheind, and landed squarely in her lap, ring and all.
Somehow, she did not scream."
I tried to warn you.   (It should be noted that when, in disbelief, I read that excerpt to my husband, he got a huge grin on his face, laughed, and said "Awesome!!! Fairy tales are cool again!" without any prompting from me whatsoever.)  There are also multiple familial beheadings, a few grisly murders, and dragon-related carnage that will likely terrify your littlest children.  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  

I know what you’re thinking: What the heck?!?  In a children’s book?!?!  I had a similar reaction – a kind of horror mixed with disbelief – and had to see what the author, Adam Gidwitz, had to say for himself.  A quick internet search led me to his FAQ page and a few others, which helped soothe my ruffled feathers…somewhat.  It explains the author’s beliefs regarding the appropriateness of fairy tale violence and the importance of helping our children choose books that suit their interests, personality, and emotional readiness.  I’m not sure if I buy his entire argument, but it gave me something to think about.

My favorite aspect of A Tale Dark & Grimm is the delightfully amusing narrator prone to interjecting his own unique perspective into the story.  I absolutely adored his voice and how it served to lighten the mood in all the right places.  Just when a king kidnaps a golden princess he’d swoop in with:
 "Now, my young readers, I know just what you're thinking.  You're thinking,   Hmmmm.  Stealing a girl.  That's an interesting way of winning her heart.  Allow me to warn you now that, under any other circumstances, stealing a girl is about the worst way of winning her heart you could possibly cook up.  But, because this happened long ago, in a faraway land, it seems to have worked."  
Or after a particularly sad part he’d  say “I will tell you, as I always tell myself, that things will get better.  Much, much  better.  I promise.   Just not yet.”  And I loved it.  

What I’m trying to say, in a twisty, convoluted sort of way, is that this book is hysterical, entertaining, and totally appropriate for the right reader.  The best way to know if your child is ready to read a book like this is to do as the author instructs and read it first.  Ordinarily that might be a mind-numbingly boring feat of reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Tale Dark & Grimm, and I think you will too.  You just might not let your kid read it.  Yet.  Or ever. 

My Rating: 4 Stars.  I’d definitely recommend this book…just not to every reader.

For the sensitive reader:  Loads of fairy tale violence.  I recommend reading this book first  before handing it off to your child.

Sum it up:  A fascinating tale both dark and grim, but not without merit.


Jillian said...

I love fairy tale retellings as well as fairy tale "horror" stories. I like a bit of twist every now and then.

Walker Wroblewski said...

This book is amazing! At times it seemed as if I wanted to stop all together due to its gross mental images it gives you. But over all, a really good book. my favorite part was when the dragon kept attaching Gretal, a very strong and courageous girl, while Hansel, a very brave and focused boy, planned their attack on the dragon. This book always keep you wondering whats going to happen next. I love this book!

Anonymous said...

My class of grade seven students describe this book as entertaining and fun. One student commented, "It is a cool but weird fairy tale, and has a lot of gory images. Another shared his thoughts, "It has many magical parts."
It is an awesome read and is recommended for the appropriate group.


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