Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and humor
Cons: Pacing of stories is off
The Bottom Line:
Family sets records
In this uneven story
Just feels average

The Family May be Fantastic, but the Book is Only Average

At last year’s LA Times Festival of Books, I grabbed a copy of The Fantastic Family Whipple since the author was there signing books and a couple of friends were raving about it.  It took me this long to make the time to read it, but I didn’t find it nearly as fun as advertised.

The Whipple Family is extraordinary.  In a world obsessed with world records, this family is consistently the first and the best at too many records to count.  And this includes not only the parents but all of their kids, down to the very youngest – a two-year-old.

And then there’s Arthur.  Stuck in the middle, his attempts to break records constantly come up short.  However, when something strange happens at the family’s annual birthday extravaganza, Arthur might be the only one who is able to figure out what is happening.  Has he found his special talent at last?

The problem with this book comes down to the plot.  It is too unfocused and as a result seems to wander all over the place.  I was amused by some of the records that the family was trying to break, but that wore off quickly.  In addition to the sabotage at the party, there’s a family that moves in next door with some kind of history with the Whipple dad and, obviously, Arthur’s attempts to break a record himself.  Yet there is still so much else going on that even with three potential plots, the action seems to move forward in fits and starts.  When the story was advancing, it was great, and I was hooked.  But then it would slow down again.  It doesn’t help that there might as well be a “To Be Continued” on the final page.  Focus was really needed to make this book better.

The characters themselves are fine.  It’s hard to argue there is a lot of character development here, but we do come to care for the characters over the course of the story.  In fact, I came to care enough about them to be tempted to pick up the sequel and see how things are resolved.  I’d just get the book from the library instead of buying it.

And I mentioned being amused by the world records.  There are lots of funny moments thanks to the wacky things the family and their competitors attempt to do in this book.  Be sure to check out the end, which lists all kinds of wacky (fictional) records and some pretty funny stories, too.

I think if the pacing had been more uniform, I would have enjoyed The Fantastic Family Whipple more.  As it is, the plot needed more focus to truly be a fantastic story.

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