The Island of Dr. Libris

August 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) ()

librisThe Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

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As fun as the two Mr. Lemoncello books were, I went ahead and moved on to another of Grabenstein’s books, since it seemed related, even if it wasn’t part of that series. The premise of The Island of Dr. Libris is definitely different: a twelve-year-old boy is going to stay with his mother for the summer, their divorce pending and weighing on his mind, and while he’s there, he becomes part of an experiment where people are trying to harness his imagination.

It’s a weird setup, especially when the different stories Billy reads start to mesh together in a “Fractured Fairy Tales” sort of way. I expected the story to be a wacky mash-up of the stories with Billy running around trying to fix them, but it took a more somber tone. I didn’t mind that it bucked my expectations, but I don’t think the execution was that good.

Dr. Libris is the one behind the experiment, and it’s evident from his notes peppered in the story that he’s looking to make money off of his findings, but it never goes anywhere in the story. He’s there just to allow the events to get started, but once the experiment is deemed a success, his part in the story ends, even though there was still half the book to finish.

Grabenstein seems to want the story to focus more on Billy’s parents pending divorce, but he spends more time on the stories come to life to pull it off. Billy ultimately uses his ability to pull things out of stories to make an attempt to fix his parents’ marriage, but it comes off too late in the story, and simplifies whatever problems might be contributing to the divorce. His attempt rang true — he’s only twelve years old, and his understanding of love and relationships is naive — but the resolution didn’t.

When Grabenstein focuses on telling a story just for fun, he does a fine job, but his attempt to add depth to a silly story falls flat. I mentioned in my review of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library that the story was told without any pretension of being anything more than a fun story; The Island of Dr. Libris tries to be more, but suffers for it. For juvenile stories that take a more mature look at adult issues, look to Brian Selznick’s work.

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