Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Answering Review Request: Willakaville

Mathew Heinecke asked me to read his book "Willakaville". It is a collection of short stories about the odd things that happen in the town of Willakaville. I will examine a few of these and then assign a grade.

As a whole these are morality tales. Short, plot driven narratives that illustrate the importance of performing one behavior and avoiding another, though some of them are more frivolous than others (the latter half of this sentence is not a pejorative; meant only to mean they are for entertainment rather than teaching). These are good morals and good lessons, in my opinion: "be polite", "be confident", "learning can be fun", etc.

The age range is very young on this. Personally, I think anyone ten years or older will roll their eyes at some of these. The age range might be higher or lower; I'm only guessing. The plots are very simple, their characters are similarly so, and require much in the way of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. When I was this age, I wanted something with more depth. Again, this is not meant as an insult but merely a generalized observation. The stories as individuals vary in terms of characters, plot, etc. with some better than others. That's why I'm taking a closer look at three of them.

This one is great. The moral is sound and well delivered. In short, it is 'polite and helpful people are more popular than jerkass bullies' and has a 'stand up for yourself, also politely' moral interwoven with it.  It has a protagonist with depth. Instead of a bell curve, its plot is more of a roller coaster. To fully explain would be to summarize the whole thing which is another good point; it is a cohesive whole. Suffice to say that it is a piece that starts as a classic Fairy Tale type story and shifts into something more Magical Realism.

"Secret Passage"

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it gives factual historical information about how Philo of Byzantium is credited with the invention of the water wheel (or close enough). On the other hand, it gives out a random line about how women were banded in Ancient Greece. Gender equality was not that bad. Then again, it is the children who say this and they are not the expert that their teacher is, who values historical accuracy extremely highly.

The plot is nonsense but I think perhaps it was meant to be the "so ridiculous that it is funny" sort of nonsense. In that case, it just didn't appeal to me.

"The Mushroom Virus"

This is one of those that requires a tremendous amount of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. A kid puts a vitamin that his mom gives him into a science class petri dish and overnight this creates mushrooms that bring out hazmat suit guys and cause both the police AND the military to quarantine the city within the day. No one knows what the mushrooms do and yet everyone still panics. Then someone starts eating them and turns into a zombie. I feel like the whole purpose of it was the single line about how "garlic and oregano are natural anti-fungals". Maybe it was a moral about how "paying attention in class can come in handy".

When grading this I tried to keep in mind the audience that Mr.Heinecke was writing for. In some of the stories, I personally think he was talking down to kids because being silly and lighthearted gave way to being thread-bare and bland. In other stories, the plot was pretty deep while still being age appropriate or providing an engaging way to teach some lesson or trivia.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Willakaville" a C

Click here for the next book review (which was not a review request): Heaven is for Real

Click here for the previous review request: "Gold Dust"

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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