I discovered this book by accident on Goodreads and everything about it appealed to the 10-year-old
inside of me: there is a library lock-in, puzzles and games. What about that doesn't sound like fun? Seriously.
Kyle Keeley is really into games, especially ones created by Luigi Lemoncello, a famously eccentric creator of board and video games. As it turns out, Lemoncello grew up in Kyle's hometown and he is responsible for the library remodel that has taken 12 years (the entirety of Kyle's life!)--Lemoncello has a passion for libraries, especially the one where he grew up planning ideas for all his games.
The Wonka-like figure creates a contest--twelve 12-year-olds will be admitted to the library two days early for an overnight lock-in; at first, Kyle is not interested: he doesn't even like books! Then he discovers that the library will be full of Lemoncello's games and that's enough to sell him on the idea. To his surprise, he is selected as one of the winners of the contest. So he and 11 of his peers get to have a sleepover in the fancy new building.
But when they wake up the next morning, they realize all the doors are locked. They're stuck. Until Mr. Lemoncello notifies them that this is part of the plan: whoever finds the secret exit to the library wins a fabulous (also Wonka-esque) prize: the official spokeschild for Lemoncello's game company (in other words, fame and fortune)! So the game is on.
Books like this are something that I loved when I was younger and I still love them today (secretly). And it was great fun, just like I hoped it would be--there are rebus puzzles and trivia games and unexpected bonus rounds and all sorts of wacky pleasure. The book moves along at a fast pace and the premise never feels old or stretched. The excitement is continuous.
The problem, then, is Grabanstein's writing--the dialogue is almost continually cringeworthy, markedly displaying his lack of understanding of children. The twelve kids are frustrating to read about because everything they say is annoying or, frankly, stupid. I'm fairly sure I would have been insulted were I an actual twelve-year-old because the author seems reluctant to give the kids interesting or likable personalities. Kyle is kind of strange as a main character because he acts like books are the worst and worships his brothers like gods.
But it's really hard to be mad at Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library: it's a book for kids (would they even notice the awful dialogue and poor characterization?) and the entire thing crackles with reverence for books and libraries and knowledge and it all feels very sincere. Luigi Lemoncello is a delightful character and just about every sentence he says comes embedded with a reference to a children's book. You can feel Grabanstein's passion for the written word in every page.
So read it. It's a fun time!
My rating: 4/5
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library on Goodreads
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