Since taking this blog up a notch and writing 5 or 6 days a week, I have gotten to talk about lots of types of books. I've talked about so many of my favorite genres--cookbooks, comic novels, chef memoirs, mysteries, celebrity memoirs, comic non-fiction. And I've gotten to talk about genres that I have less experience with but am learning to love just as much--thrillers, sci fi, literary fiction. But there is one genre I have long been a fan of that I have yet to talk much about. That stops this week. I am finally coming out to say: I love middle grade fiction!
What is that? It's the books that are between picture books and YA. Picture books are amazing, how they say so much about life with so few words and such stunning illustrations. YA, one of the hottest genres in the last decade, has certainly stepped up and brought with it highly skilled writers and a depth of style and breadth of topics. There are lots of great books in both of these genres. But my passion is still middle grade fiction. These are books with chapters, designed for kids in elementary school to middle school, and in order to keep the attention of kids this age, they need to be clever, well written, and packed with interesting characters and action.
So why am I talking about this now? Because of Netflix, that's why. Netflix has just released the first season of their adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and those are books I have strong opinions about.
The books (there are 13 in the series) follow three young children, the orphaned Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire as they try to figure out who killed their parents and why. Through these books, you follow them to new and interesting places and you get to meet different members of their family as they are moved from home to home. Each of the Baudelaire children have their own personalities, strengths, and challenges. Together they made a good team, which is important, because they are up against nefarious forces that will test them to their limits.
The first season of the Netflix show cover the first 4 books (if you remember the movie from 2004, with Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, it covered the first 3 books). The first 4 books of the series, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and the Miserable Mill, are exceptional. They give you a sense of the children and their abilities, of the challenges that they face in their journey, and of this new world they are finding themselves in. These books are narrated by an unseen storyteller, Lemony Snicket, who follows the children and records their progress in the manner of a journalist.
The second season of the show will deal with the next 4 books in the series (The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, and The Hostile Hospital), and the third season will tackle the last 5 (The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and The End). I don't know how these seasons will go, but I do know how it feels to read these books.
They are extremely well written, with lots of imagination, strong characters, and realistic motivations. However, after seeing these three children, innocent children whose only sin was to have smart parents who poked their noses into the wrong places, being put in the position to be bullied, taken advantage of, and fight for their lives in book after book, I got completely disheartened. I almost stopped reading the series after 7 or 8 books. Finally, the Baudelaires figure out how to turn the tables on their enemies, but it got to be painful to read these after awhile. The series starts out exceptional, and it ends on a really good note, but some of those middle books are really difficult to read. Attack this series with caution. I recommend it, not to everyone, but to those with the strength to have faith in the darkest of times and to follow through to the end, no matter what. It's a difficult journey for the reader as well as the children. But it's a journey worth taking. And Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are well worth the time you put in to see their eventual heroics.