||A Review of: The Pepins and their Problems
by Tim McGrenere
In Polly Horvath's latest book for young readers (ages 8-12 in this
case), we're thrown headlong into the world of the Pepins, an
eccentric family with talkative pets, who experience a series of
problems-toads live in their shoes, the family gets trapped on the
roof, the cow gives lemonade instead of milk, etc. In each chapter
the author solicits the help of her "dear readers" to
psychically send her solutions, which she can receive through her
"unusually large" antennae. She displays and debates the
merits of these "solutions", which come from such far-flung
places as Witless Bay, Nova Scotia and Saint-Louis du Ha!Ha!, Quebec,
at the beginning of each chapter.
For the first two or three chapters, this "reader-response"
conceit and Horvath's enthusiastic enjoyment of her own humour, do
have a wacky charm. It even works as a comic geography lesson-I
would never have heard of Edzoo, North-West Territories without
reading this book. However, by page 60, I was trying to send a
psychic message that the Pepin problems were becoming redundant,
and that the whole conceit was becoming a drag. Alas, that message
wasn't received. Perhaps my broadcasting antenna isn't large enough.
Horvath indulges in some increasingly bizarre allusions and vocabulary
choices, considering the target audience. She refers to Hamlet,
Romeo and Juliet and Pygmalion. She uses words like
"fortuitously", "perspicacious", and
"contretemps". I don't believe we should talk down to
kids, but "contretemps"? Perhaps it is a language lesson
to go with the geography lesson, but I think there's more than just
a little self-indulgence here. Is it the tell-tale sign of a writer
who really wishes to write adult books? Maybe another reader could
psychically send me the answer to this question.
Horvath's self-indulgence extends to the novel's overall tone of
extreme manic goofiness. It often reads like the hyperactive
scribbling of a modestly talented class clown, whose antics are
sometimes amusing to others, but are always best appreciated by
herself. You can almost hear Polly Horvath still chortling away at
her own jokes as you sit there groaning.
By book's end it is obvious that the biggest problem for the Pepins
is that the author never gave them any real character or storyline
to sustain 180 pages. So, even the good lines, of which there are
a few, get lost in the deep swamp of silliness.