The Pepins and Their Problems

by Polly Horvath
ISBN: 0888996330

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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.

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