This was a really fun read, I enjoyed the characters (mostly), the ghosts, the cases and the "mystery". The banter between the kids was fun at times, and at others it was a little too immature or outright offensive (I'll get to that). But maybe that's to be expected of... 14/15 year-olds? (I want to know why the author couldn't be bothered to tell us their actual ages, was it part of the "mystery"?) The book was a little too vague about some relevant stuff but it went into long descriptions and scenes that ultimately carried no weight in the story. I know it's super petty to be bothered by something like the characters' ages when it's made clear they're no older than 16, but bother me it did.
One of the things that stopped me from giving it a higher rating was the writing. It was awfully simplistic, there were more than a couple of typos in my Kindle version and the descriptions never made much sense in my head, so I had to completely disregard them at times because it was too much of a bother trying to figure out what the author was trying to convey.
These things considered, I could've probably given this book 3.5 stars, maybe even four taking into account this has been shelved as middle-grade and it might be my own damn fault that the writing and characters didn't appeal to me that much. So yes, I could've rated this book higher, but you know what? Giving a book that fat shames
its characters 2 stars is already way too generous. Un-fucking-forgivable. When was this published? *checks date* Okay, are you kidding me here? I am so angry right now.
My biggest problem with this book was, by far, the treatment of George. I couldn't, in good conscience, give it more than two stars even though, yes, I enjoyed the plot. Maybe I've been very careful with the books I've read, or maybe I've just been super lucky, but I don't remember anyone being this fat shamed in any other book I've ever read. At first it was easy to overlook, because the character was being introduced and I assumed the author wanted us to have a clear image of who he was, how he presented himself, etc. But slowly it became glaringly obvious that even the author was being a bully towards George's character. Shouldn't the author know better than to go around fat shaming characters so blatantly; especially if this book's target audience is children and teenagers?
The fact that George was fat/pudgy/plump/big was pointed out several times every other page. But it didn't stop there, on top of the reader being constantly reminded that he is fat, it's also implied or outright said that he's not easy on the eyes, he dresses awfully, his appearance is sloppy and oh, right, he gets confused with the help very easily, because... lul he's fat and unkempt.
'Tell your boy to bring the sugar too'
'My boy? Er, yes. Off you go, George. Teas all round, please.'
Lucy is actually so put-off by George that she gives us this gem soon after meeting him:
'But George Cubbins? No. He bothered me. I made heroic efforts not to get annoyed with him that first day, but it wasn't humanly possible.
Take his appearance. There was something about it that acted as a trigger to one's worst instincts. His face was uniquely slappable -- a nun would have ached to punch him -- while his backside cried out to heaven for a well-placed kick. He slouched, he slumped, he scuffed his way about the house like something soft about to melt. His shirt was always untucked, his trainers extra-big, the laces trailing. I've seen reanimated corpses with better deportment than George.
And that flop of hair! And those silly glasses! Everything about him irritated me.'
Excuse him for being a teen, fat, and having poor eyesight. Good God.
And it's not the only time his appearance makes her angry, oh no. She's also repetitive about it.
'His flop of hair, his glossy, shapeless face, his silly little glasses: everything about him made me livid.'
You hear that? It makes her livid
Of course, Lucy was also quick to draw comparisons between George and Lockwood (who is tall, slim and handsome, and of course, she finds him easier to get along with).
'Well, it isn't hard to guess which colleague I favoured, as I lay awake that night under the attic eaves. On the one hand: Anthony Lockwood --vigorous and energetic, eager to throw himself into ech new mystery; a boy who was clearly never happier than when walking into a haunted room, his hand resting lightly on his sword hilt. On the other: George cubbins, handsome as a freshly opened tub of margarine, as charismatic as a wet tea towel lying scrumpled on the floor. I guessed he was never happier than when surrounded by dusty files and piled plates of food.'
It's hard growing fond of Lucy after that, but she's a 15 (???) year old girl, I can give her a pass and hope she eventually matures. We are all shallow to a degree, after all, and I don't expect a kid to be tactful, especially in her private musings.
The author though, seemed unapologetic about his descriptions and is eager to use any excuse to remind you that George is a bland looking big guy, with crap fashion sense.
I got quickly tired of lines such as these:
"He closed the door and scratched his pudgy
nose." (His nose was described as pudgy at least 3 times, three times too many after having established that he's fat. Why is it absolutely necessary to call his nose pudgy every time it is mentioned? why?)
"George stamped his great fat feet"
"...had his floor-plans spread out on his ample knee;"
"Now he picked it up and, with a chubby finger, indicated a point on the main wall of the house"
"George puffed out his ample cheeks."
"No, you just nudged it with your BFF! That's Big Fat Foot, by the way"
"Pity I can't close that fat mouth of yours here, Cubbins."
"He prodded the floor-plan with a stubby finger."
How many of those adjectives are unnecessary? Well, considering these are just a FEW examples of the kind of George-related descriptions you'll find in this book, I'd say A LOT. MOST OF THEM.
Why can't his finger just be a finger? why can't his feet be just feet? Why can't we have a part of his anatomy mentioned without the words fat, pudgy, chubby or ample in front of every single one of them?
Am I being too harsh on the author's writing though? Could it be unintentional? Well... let's not forget even his clothes get the stink eye, because the guy can't have a break.
"Lockwood wore a long brown leather coat that emphasized his slimness and easy stride. George worse a hideous puffy jacket with high elasticated waistband that emphasized his bottom"
"George crammed his head inside his foul green bobble-hat."
"He wore and enormous pair of saggy blue pyjamas that were at least three sizes too big for him, and decorated with garish and ill-conceived spaceships and planes."
Even when Lucy is trying to give George a compliment (in her head, because God forbid she actually talks nice to him) she precedes it with this other gem:
'With his glasses off, his eyes look small and weak - blinky and a bit baffled, like an unintelligent sheep that's taken a wrong turn.'
And if you think Lucy was the only one taking jabs at poor George and that Lockwood was somehow better... well, he actually kind of is... but it didn't stop the author to make his own character go randomly OOC so he could write this.
'... So what if he's got strange eyes? George's are pretty odd too, and we don't hold it against him.'
'Thanks for that,' George said. 'I thought they were my best feature.'
'They are --that's the tragedy of it.'
And these are just some examples of many, many more.
We'd been exposed to a whole range of sinister mists, sounds and odours, not all of them courtesy of George.
Oh so the fat guy is also smelly. Why, of course.
'This one's my room, and that's George's. I'd tread with caution there. I once walked in on him doing yoga in the nude.' With difficulty, I drove the image from my mind.
Couldn't have missed the opportunity to make a naked fat guy joke, could you?
Also, of course George can't stop eating and that's mentioned a lot, in any case you didn't think it important enough to remember.
He pushed the plate my way. "Please. George'll only eat them all, else."
"Tell her about the biscuit rule," George said "Tell her, Lockwood. We'll have to get this straight or else there'll be hell to pay."
There was a profound silence, abruptly broken by an enormously loud rumble from George's stomach. Plaster didn't actually fall from the ceiling, but it was close.
'Sorry,' he said cheerfully. "Famished. I think I'll have another doughnut, if you don't mind. Any takers?' No one paid him any heed. He reached out for the plate.
Hilarious. Just Hilarious and not cliché at all.
But okay, so he's made fun of and looked down upon, but at least he's smart and a pain the ass about it. So... it's okay?
The awful things said and thought of George were always treated as harmless but the whole thing crossed a line very early on when it became repetitive and increasingly ill-natured. He was mocked in ways that would've made any other person feel awful about themselves and that is not okay, no matter how George faced the insults or if he never seemed to mind very much. I don't care if he wasn't charismatic like Lockwood or that he gave Lucy a hard time. The way he was treated can never be justified. What could've been a slip said in good nature once or twice, became ugly and cringe-worthy, pretty fast.
Despite all of this I am probably going to read the next book (I am hooked, I admit. Especially after that last chapter.). This book came out in 2013 so I'm hoping the author got enough feedback about this issue (I cannot be the only one bothered by it) and eventually rectified it.
George is obviously an important character and I want to think he can't possibly be the butt of everyone's joke for too long, maybe he'll stand up to Lockwood and Lucy at last, and Lucy will be forced to be less of a jerk in her POV. I also want to chalk a lot of the things said about him to the author wanting to channel the immaturity of these kids, although it's hard to excuse the way this book was written.
So yeah, two stars for the fat shaming, but I might still read the next book, hoping things change.