by Helen Stringer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible?
It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed... until everything changes.
One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone.
With the help of her classmate Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time for good.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I honestly didn't think that any book could be worse than The Explosionist... but I was so very, very wrong. I must have a knack for picking utter crap.
Spellbinder is about a girl named Belladonna Johnson. Her parents died in a car accident, but it's not so bad because Belladonna has a talent: she can see ghosts. So her family life is pretty much as it was before... except that now her parents can do things like poke their heads through the living room wall. But then one day all the ghosts in the world disappear. It's up to Belladonna and her friend Steve to discover what happened to all the ghosts... or, this time, Belladonna could lose her parents forever.
That really doesn't sound so bad, does it? The premise itself isn't bad. The writing, on the other hand, was absolutely abysmal. The author does not know how to write dialogue. And I'm not talking about stylistic issues here. I'm talking about the nuts-and-bolts punctuation and grammar of dialogue that you're supposed to learn in elementary school. As I read the book, I got angrier and angrier. This sort of thing should just not be published! Scarier still is the fact that this is a middle-grade book. If this is how we're teaching kids about the English language, it's no wonder so many of them can barely construct a sentence. Here are some particularly heinous examples:
"It's not allowed," Aya glanced back nervously.
Dr. Ashe nodded and managed a smile, "Quite so."
No, no, no! Ms. Stringer, are you allergic to the humble period? Those sentences are just plain wrong. Added to the weird spliced dialogue were speech attributions that just didn't make any sense:
"Hello, darling," beamed her mother.
"Oh, well," shrugged Steve.
Is Belladonna's mother telepathic? Can Steve's shoulders actually emit sound and talk? If so, I might be willing to let those go. But there's nothing in the book to suggest telepathic mothers or talking shoulders, so I'm going to label it as a mistake. What on earth is wrong with the words "said" or "asked"?
And the worst part of all of this is that, in the back of the book, the editors are proudly named. There's nothing to be proud of here. Spellbinder was so badly written that I'm probably going to avoid reading any other books by this publisher because it's obvious that even the editors don't have a clear understanding of the English language.
I got almost halfway through, struggling against the stinking prose and questionable actions of the main character. (Honestly. She walks out into traffic and a car nearly hits her. But it hits a cyclist instead before crashing into a concrete barrier. Instead of hanging around to give a witness statement to the police, Belladonna walks away with her friend to break into the school. Yeah, there's a responsible thing to be teaching kids.) Then I got bronchitis, and though I felt like curling up in bed and reading a book, I just couldn't bring myself to read any more of this one. I want books to bring me comfort when I'm sick... not make me feel even more ill. So I gave up. Life's too short for bad books.
The ratings below are for what I did read. Yes, that's a negative 2 for the writing. I'm not going to be limited to a zero when something's this bad.
Overall: 0.4 out of 5
(so bad it killed the ladybug!)