Published: 14 December 2016 (Originally published 7 October 2016)
Publisher: Bunny Moon Enterprises LLC
Category: Middle Grade/Fiction/Humor
James isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: he’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid who ever lived, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking Scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.
He’s joined on his quest by a professional Optimist and his grouchy companion, an equally professional Pessimist. Together, they set out on a journey of self-discovery that leads them all the way from the Sea of Doubt to Mount Impossible, the highest peak in the Unattainable Mountains. When James stumbles into a Shangri-la called Epiphany, he uncovers the secret of who he really is.
Follow James on his hilarious, adventure-packed journey to find self-worth in this heartfelt middle grade novel The King of Average by debut author Gary Schwartz.
Rating: 2.5 Stars
CW: emotional abuse by a parent
The premise of The King of Average sounds like it could be a fun enough story. Who doesn’t love adventure? Sure being Average might not be what everyone wants, but it sure seems safe enough, right? Well, that’s what I thought, but there’s are some rather sad and dark reasons that made this book not be the wholly lighthearted novel that I thought it was.
The author made use of more than a few puns and quite well, I thought, from the goat Mayor Culpa to the Nervous Nellies, to phrases like “a little birdie told me” (referencing the little birdie harbinger of James’s story to the other characters). The Mayor was nice enough, reminding me very much of a certain house elf from a wizarding series. Their behaviors, such as of taking the blame for everything and head butting against things in penance, brought the resemblance into sharp relief. The other characters, such as the Optimist and the Pessimist, were very true to their names and played off each other like a pair of comedians might have done on stage.
Now, the darkness I mentioned earlier. There were rather dark undertones in the book that I’m was surprised by. There were some hints about poverty, but they got swept up in the portrayal of the main character’s emotional abusive mother, whose emotional abuse was evident explicitly in the things she said very early on and which continues to crop up throughout the story. Then, there was the Shadow, or the manifestation of James’s depression itself, which was never treated quite right. It seemed to be written as depression, with all the qualities thereof, but it seemed like the ending didn’t know how to deal with it properly and things were resolved with the flick of a switch and not really all that well.
There was history revealed as to James’s mother’s potential “reason” for the abuse she inflicted upon her child, a dream sequence that James had that reveals the cycle of abuse his mother’s family is in that felt jammed in to give her an excuse. It was an awkward scene, when James is in this scene, and once the book concluded, I felt it all the more because it once again made me feel like the dark undertones weren’t quite given the necessary respect and for a middle grade, which can tackle this subjects, I think it’s even more important.
I’m not sure whether the author meant to get so invested in this subjects of abuse and mental illness, but it hit a chord with me and I wanted to mention it because parents reading this to their children ought to know what’s coming up before stumbling over this blind, plus kids reading on their own might have questions about the nasty things this woman says.
The pacing of the book was one of my bigger problems and where I thought it dipped from being Average to being merely Okay, just a bit under the A bar there. Reading this straight through feels like more of a chore than it should. It just didn’t have enough fun in it, enough humor, to make it enjoyable to swallow all at once. It slogs in places and that makes the overall thing suffer. Because I alternately listened to the provided audiobook and an e-copy that I picked up, I think I saw both sides of the coin: reading with my eyes and my ears. The King of Average comes out much better as a “being read to” book, maybe as a nightly treat, than it does a “soldier through it”.
Gary Schwartz was a good narrator. While I wouldn’t say I became fully immersed in the story, I can fully imagine Schwartz reading this at a reading event in a bookstore or some such event. The emphasis, the enthusiasm, it all came across in his telling.
The King of Average was longer than needed, didn’t treat all its angles with the attention they needed, but had some fun moments and really reveled in its puns.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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