Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

This is my second stab at this book.  At first, I thought we were getting along really well.  As soon as the author started describing the new library, I was drooling.

A lot of people think that librarians still only wear orthotic shoes and buns and glasses.  That we shush.  That--oh horror of horrors!--we do not use Technology.

Have you been inside a library lately?  Most libraries, even wee ones, have self-checkout.  This means that book-loving introverts such as myself (working with children all day and being super YAY! is basically me practicing my method acting) can walk in, get books, and walk out without having to talk to anyone.  Don't get me wrong--I'm not a misanthrope.  I read the play by Molière and I know that being such isn't going to get me anywhere except maybe exile.  However, when I'm on a book mission, I don't really want to talk to someone.  I just want my books.  That whole awkward social interaction thing is magnified because I work in a library, so being a patron in a library feels ... weird.

But Mr. Lemoncello's library?  Well.  It's got 3-D holograms.  It's got a dome (so help me, I'm a sucker for domes).  It's got magnetic lifts that zip you up to the top of the stacks.  It's got games and a café and keycard entry meeting rooms.  It's got automated check-in, robot pages, game rooms, archives, and lots and lots and lots of BOOKS!

If you positioned me at the front door (which is a bank vault door *fistpump*) of this building and asked me what I saw, I'd go all Howard Carter on you: "Wonderful things," and then faint.  Preferably I wouldn't have the "die a few months later" side effect, but you get the idea.

Unfortunately, the idea of this library is really the only thing I loved about this book.  I understand that it's a sort of fantasy, an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a love letter to libraries and books, but the plot is rather a mess because it relies on the actions of totally unbelievable characters.

I have my original review from the first attempt at this, in which I stopped reading because of "stereotypical characters."  My instincts then were correct: this book is chock-a-block with every middle-school stereotype you can think of.  The class clown who's really a good person.  The rich kid.  The ditz.  The loyal friend.  The über-nerd.  The über-book-nerd.  The toady.

And then there's the adults.  Or shall I say, the "adults"?  The kids' parents willingly put their children's safety at risk for the chance at fame and fortune.  Bad parents.  Mr. Lemoncello is the Willy Wonka of board games, whose main characteristics include: wearing strange clothing, making excessive book puns, and creating board games.  Dr. Yanina Zinchenko, the most famous librarian in the world (??? We have those?) has bright red hair, is very tall, and wears red glasses.  I pictured Mr. Lemoncello and her thusly:

Okay, so here we are.  The plot. As you have already deduced from the title, the kids must escape from the library.  Since we know that Luigi Lemoncello creates games, it's a puzzle for them to solve.  But they don't know that right away.  

Instead, Grabenstein spends the first part of the book talking about this essay contest that Kyle Keeley (the sort-of-main-character) totally blew off but then writes a late essay, turns it in, and magically gets picked anyway.  Hi, Charlie Bucket.  I have no sympathy for this.  It may be my hormones, or it may be my finely-tuned librarian sense of bull manure sensing, but if you are a slacker who forgot to do his homework and decided that an essay like "I hope there will be balloons" is an appropriate thing to give to your teacher, think again, buster.  Life does not give you third chances.  You are not a speshul snowflake.  If you do not do the work, you will not be rewarded.  

I sound like one of those be-bunned librarians, don't I?  Well, I'm also trying to sound like an adult.  Kids mimic what they read in books, just like they parrot what they hear in music or attempt (idiotic) stunts they see in movies.  If you teach them that skating by on charisma is a path to success, congratulations!  You've probably raised a politician.  

So anyway, Luigi Lemoncello built this super-fance, top-secret library in Alexandriaville (ha), and he selects twelve essayists to spend the night.  Surprise, surprise, Kyle is a winner.  

After a way-cool night sleeping in the library, the twelve kids find out that they can't leave.  Sort of.  They can choose to leave ... or they can attempt to escape from the library and win a spot as a model in Mr. Lemoncello's advertising campaign.  Wait, what?  Did we just switch over to Dance Moms or something like that?  That's your big prize?  Call me mercenary ("Mercenary!"), but I'd take straight-up cash.  Or maybe a college fund.  Or even ... heck ... a lifetime supply of games!  But no.  I guess everyone wants to be a model.

Naturally, all the parents are in love with this idea and don't seem to mind that their underage children are basically prisoners.  True, any kid who wants to leave can leave, but there's that pressure to take a risk.  Go along with this crazy game.  It would be like if ABC invited kids to spend a night camping out on a desert island and then informed them and their parents that they were on the newest season of Survivor.  Most kids probably won't think about this, but it troubles me.  At least in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, each child could bring a grown-up guest.

The kids who do stay have until noon the next morning to escape the library.  To do so, they take part in a giant scavenger hunt/trivia game.  It's a bit like Clue meets Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?  They rather quickly separate into two teams: Kyle and the cool, good kids versus Charles (evil khaki-pant-wearing-snob) and his sycophants.

Oddly enough, almost every kid here is a grade-A genius, or something close to it.  Kyle just happened to watch reruns of the original Hawaii Five-0 and remember the name of one of the actors. He also just happened to play Trivial Pursuit with his mom ... with the original cards.  And thank goodness for the bookworm, Sierra, who knows publication years, Russian literature ...

Are you kidding me?  These are not normal middle schoolers.  Was their town a secret government test site for dumping something in the water to create super-smart humans?  There is just so much esoteric trivia in here that the kids either know right away or figure out faster that anyone I can imagine.  While this is ... aspirational, if I were a kid reading this, I'd feel kind of bummed out.  I would never have won any of the prizes--not even as adult me!  While this is definitely fantasy, the characters are both flat and completely unrelatable.  As we got to the end I found myself wishing it would all be over soon ... that this game would die a quick and painless death.  And then Mr. Lemoncello showed up again.

He claims that he doesn't know the answer to the puzzle and that everything the kids experienced was set up by Dr. Zinchenko (who I keep calling, in my mind, Katinka Ingabogovinanana).  According to everything we were told in the book, this doesn't make any sense.  Luigi Lemoncello is famous for his games.  The contest inside the library is basically a hodgepodge of all of the most famous Lemoncello games.  And why would a great game maker, a genius, let someone else plan the biggest game of them all?  For a birthday party?  I don't think so.

While Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library dazzled me at first with the titular library, the rest of the story just fell apart around that fantastical building.

P.S.  No middle schooler would ever make the mistake of saying, "I'll Twitter that."


  1. Actually, there is a world's most famous librarian, Nancy Pearl, who has her own action doll. And if that doesn't impress you, did you know that Casanova was a librarian? It's true!

    1. I like her Book Lust books, and that her action doll comes with "shushing action" :D

      Is there anything Casanova didn't do?


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