CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 16. . . . April 11, 2003
Molly Moon looked down at her pink, blotchy legs. It wasn't the bathwater that was making them mottled like Spam; they were always that color. And so skinny. Maybe one day, like an ugly duckling turning into a swan, her knock-kneed legs might grow into the most beautiful legs in the world. Some hope.
Molly leaned back until her curly brown hair and her ears were under water. She stared at the fly-specked yellow paint that was peeling off the wall and at the damp patch on the ceiling where strange mushrooms grew. Water filled her ears and the world sounded foggy and far away.
Molly shut her eyes. It was an ordinary November evening, and she was in a shabby bathroom in a crumbling building called the Hardwick House Orphanage. ... Someone was hammering downstairs. That was strange; no one ever mended anything in Hardwick House. Then Molly realized that the hammering was someone banging on the bathroom door. ... "Molly Moon, open this door at once!"
Think of Dotheboys Hall. Think of some of Roald Dahl's nastier adult creations: Mathilda's head mistress, for example, or George's grandmother. Try a bit of Lemony Snicket. Add a few bullies among the older children and mix all these unpleasant items together. Now you have an approximation of Hardwick House, the orphanage where Molly lives, where Miss Alderstone is in charge, where Edna the cook serves her specialty of rotten fish with walnut and spinach sauce, and where Mrs Toadley terrorizes the local school population under the banner of education. Ghastly, yes, until the day that Molly has a fight with her only friend Rocky and sneaks off to the town library instead of doing the prescribed cross-country run in the rain. There she finds a book on hypnotism, discovers that she is a natural hypnotist and proceeds to hypnotize her way to fame and fortune, first locally and then in New York.
Unbelievable? Certainly, but what about a school for wizards reached by a train originating on platform 9 3/4? It is possible for an author to require that her readers suspend disbelief, but Harry Potter is evidence that it helps if the characters involved ring true, and there are more than a few cracked bells in this book. Molly, herself, hasn't much real humanity in her. Initially she hates herself and everyone else (except Rocky, though even he can be pretty annoying at times) and is prepared to be totally ruthless with other people in pursuit of her own comfort and convenience. In the end, she has done a complete 360 degree turn, likes who she is, and just wants to help turn "Happiness House" into a wonderful place for children. Miss Alderstone and Edna are frankly caricatures, as are Hazel and her bullying sidekicks. Molly's learning to know herself as she and Rocky succeed in converting the villain Nockman from a life of crime to one in which he wants to be nice to people and make them happy is simplistic in the extreme.
There is a point, just at the end, when suddenly reality levels criss-cross, and the reader is forced to wonder just who has hypnotized whom and if the whole book is one giant spoof, but the confusion does not last long. Then we get a sentimentally happy ending and are forced to conclude that it was for real, at least within the covers of the book.
The Molly that I read is an "advance reading copy" of the North American edition, but it is already available here in Britain. While it is patently obvious that I didn't much like the book, finding it both derivative and trite, I nevertheless asked a librarian friend about its reception over here. "I haven't read it yet", she replied. "It's got that super shiny cover, and it's always out." My judgement, or the children's? It's up to you!
Recommended with reservations.
Mary Thomas is on leave from her job with the Winnipeg School Division but is working at various part-time posts, almost all library-connected, in Oxford, England.
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