Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What-The-Dickens by Gregory Maguire

Title: What-The-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy
Author: Gregory Maguire
Pages: 304
Publisher: Candlewick Press
My rating: 3.8 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.26 stars
Published: September 11, 2007

A terrible storm is raging, and Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s the story of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns of a dutiful tribe of tooth fairies to which he hopes to belong. As his tale unfolds, however, both What-the-Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and far less sure than they ever imagined.

Not gonna lie, this took me a couple tries to get sucked in, which is part of the reason for the lower rating. However, that's something I've noticed with Gregory Maguire's books - I had a bit of a hard time getting into both Wicked and Mirror, Mirror, but was pretty happy with the outcome of each book.  I think that's just something I have to deal with when reading his books in the future.

What-The-Dickens is, as the title implies, a rogue tooth fairy {I prefer the term vagabond, but that would have made for a silly title}.  He's hatched all alone in a tuna can {most skibbereen are hatched in large groups of 70ish or so siblings}, not knowing what he is or where.  After a couple dicey encounters with a mean cat {his first love}, a rust-throated grisset {his adoptive mother, who at first tried to feed him to her offspring}, a Bengal tiger {with whom he plays dentist}, and a very mean old lady with a full set of tempting fake teeth, he finds himself face to face with another of his kind: Pepper, a skibberee attempting to get her license to become an Agent of Change at the colony of Undertree Common.  From Pepper, he learns the ways of the skibberee, although he is too curious to really follow any of the rules.

I enjoyed the way the author wove this tale, and all the little elements he added {why skibbereen need to collect teeth, and everything they exchange in order to get them}, and the characters were all very entertaining, even if some of them were incredibly unlikeable {okay, mostly just Doctor Ill}.  What-The-Dickens is a captivatingly curious fellow, and I found myself cheering him on against the society of Undertree Common.  I would love it if Gregory Maguire continued this story from, say, Dinah's POV.  I think she would make just as good a story teller as her older cousin Gage.

A goodly amount of the reviews I read on this kept talking about the political undertones in this book, and I agree that they're there.  However, when I read a book, I generally am doing it to get away from everyday life and politics, so, for the most part I try to let stuff like that slide.  However, I did want to see What-The-Dickens do something to get the skibbereen of Undertree Common see the error in their thinking and how the gross population of skibbereen were mistreated.  But the book would have probably been something more like 700 pages instead of 304.  And, all in all, I was pretty satisfied with it.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:
"When you start imagining you're being molested in your own bed by the Tooth Fairy of Death, you've been hitting the sauce too much. Or reading too much fiction." - Old Mrs. Lee Gangster, p. 214

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