Wednesday, August 22, 2012

{Review} What-the-Dickens by Gregory Maguire

Published by Candlewick Press, 2007
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN 0763629618
Genres: children's fiction, fairy tales, fantasy, magic, paranormal, urban fantasy, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A terrible storm is raging, and Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s the story of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns of a dutiful tribe of tooth fairies to which he hopes to belong. As his tale unfolds, however, both What-the-Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and far less sure than they ever imagined.

My review: This is a difficult book to review. I adore What-the-Dickens and Pepper, and much of his/their story is extremely charming and sweet. The narrative about Dinah and her siblings and Gage, however, was simply hard to get into and doesn't make a lot of sense. It also takes up way too much of the book without any kind of satisfactory character or plot development or even a decent resolution. In addition, I'm rather disappointed in Mr. Maguire because it would seem that he modeled the children after religious and homeschooling stereotypes without a lot of first-hand knowledge of such lifestyles. The reason I say this is because not every homeschooling family breeds religious fanatics, a family's religion or faith is not always the motivation for homeschooling, and homeschooled is not necessarily synonymous with antisocial. To be honest, I'm not sure what his point is regarding the children's upbringing because the story would be much greater served without all of the extra religious/sheltered angst.

The story Gage tells about the skibbereen, on the other hand, is fun, magical and feels much more like a proper fairy tale. I love old Mrs. Gangster and her collection of morbid books (gifts from her family), the mama grisset and her maternal affection for What-the-Dickens, and the tooth-achy Bengal tiger, Maharajah. The skibbereen are an awesome and very imaginative creation, and What-the-Dickens and Pepper, what with their evolution and growth throughout the story, have enormous potential for further adventures. 

Unfortunately, in addition to the problems mentioned above there is an awkward disjointedness between the two stories, absolutely unbelievable dialogue among the children and Gage, more cheesy and inept adults than you'll find in an episode of Scooby-Doo, and long dull stretches that interrupt and ruin the suspense and magic of What-the-Dickens' story. As much as I enjoyed the fairy tale bits, I had a hard time mustering up enough enthusiasm to even give this book two stars. I am very disappointed in What-the-Dickens and to be honest, I can't think of anyone I would recommend it to.

Mary Beth


  1. Great review. I'm glad to see your blog up and running again, and I appreciate your honesty about the book (seems to be rare on some blogs). Now that you are posting reviews again, you may be interested in entering my current giveaway. Follow the link below if you get a chance.


    1. Thank you so much, Ethan! I'm glad to be back! And I appreciate your feedback. I don't particularly care for posting not-so-positive reviews but it needs done on occasion :)

      I'll take a look at your giveaway- thank you for linking! ~Mary Beth

  2. OMG! you do! yes, I hate you! I'm gonna keep a close eye on this blog, maybe you will finally publish some tip about it.

    You do... what the... dickens?

    1. Hahaha!! It doesn't take me long to make enemies, does it? :D I don't know if there are any real tips I can give, but keep an eye on Twitter. There are a lot of ladies there who know a thing or two, lol.

  3. Hi Mary Beth,
    Saw the link to your blog on the Book Blogs group. Following you via GFC. My blog:
    365 Books A Year
    My Twitter if you want to exchange follows there, just follow me and I'll follow back within 24 hours.

    I read this author's book, Wicked. I'm one of those people that didn't really like it. I homeschool 2 of my kids- so this book would probably tick me off. Glad you mentioned it. Even though I didn't like Wicked, so many people rave about his books that I was planning, at some point, to read something else by him. Thanks for your review because if I ever read a book by him, it won't be this one.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I'm following you back via GFC and will be on Twitter in a bit.

      Readers tend to either love or hate Wicked- my best friend and I love it, my sister and her best friend hate it, lol. His books tend to do that. And yes, if you're more acquainted with homeschooling this book will definitely irritate you, so no problem! I'm glad I could save you some time because you're not missing anything with this one.
      I have read 7 of his books thus far (the 4 Wicked Years, W-t-D, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and Mirror Mirror) and the only ones I've truly enjoyed were the Wicked Years. And yet I keep reading them because I suppose you don't necessarily have to enjoy them to get something out of them. I don't know. He's definitely a unique author, lol. Good luck with whichever novel you choose to read next and I'd love to hear what you think of it! ~Mary Beth


I'd love to hear your thoughts!