The King of Average
Published October 7th 2015
Goodreads: See here
Plot at a Glance:
Eleven year old James – the protagonist of this tale – is perfectly average at everything he does. He’s not especially bright, nor clever, or particularly talented at anything. How could he forget his shortcomings with a mother who makes a hobby out of pointing them out? James has a choice: wallow in self-pity and frustration, or embrace that which he is and become the most average 11 year old boy to have ever lived. When his choice is made, James is magically transported to a new world, full of new friends who want him to become the King of Average and James begins a new journey that may forever change the boy he sees himself as.
I tip my hat to Gary Schwartz for taking what is a relatively tired trope (portal fantasy) and breathing new life into it in a debut novel.
In a lot of ways this felt nostalgic, and very reminiscent of classic children’s books I read during my childhood. The narrative voice in particular reminded me of the Narnia series. Regardless, the world here is filled with memorable locations and characters that feel varied and distinct. Plus, there’s sketches included of all the characters to keep children interested.
There was a lot I really liked about this story, but a few things that ultimately brought the score down a little in the end. I really want to highlight all the things I did enjoy first and foremost though.
The Realm of Possibility, the land James is transported to, is a really cute, albeit heavy-handed, vehicle by which to teach children about simple psychological concepts such as state of mind, and attitude. The land itself becomes the teaching tool, with areas and locations like:
⁂ Serenity Sea
⁂ Disappointment Bay
⁂ Median City
⁂ and a mountain range referred to as “Way Above Average”
Of course the corresponding characters met within those locations serve as teaching moments for young readers while exploring a fun new world.
⁂ A talking “scapegoat,” named Mayor Culpa (“Mae Culpa”)
⁂ A professional optimist
⁂ and his companion, a pessimist named Kiljoy
⁂ and a few others that appear throughout.There’s a lot of wordplay at work here, which certainly makes the book fun for adults to read. I do wonder though if it’s a little bit too complex for middle-grade readers to pick up on some of it though, so perhaps its a bit wasted. It also gets a little bit exhausting after awhile as an adult reader, listening to polar-opposite characters bicker back and forth. It’s still a neat idea though and Schwartz really uses it to guide the plot along in good measure.
That being said, there was some material in here I found culturally insensitive. I think perhaps things went a bit too classic here. I also took big issue with the fact that there are only 2 prominent female characters in this book, and one of them is abusive and a villain in the story, while the other doesn’t show up until nearly 60% in. Surely one of the many male characters introduced before that point could have been rewritten as a female character and nothing would have been harmed. Lastly, while things reached a reasonable end, I felt like a few plot points were left unexplained/unresolved satisfactorily.
Altogether, this was a great start for a debut novelist, especially one looking to write for children. He has a unique and rarely-heard voice for an author penning work today, and I’d welcome more forays into the genre with another story by him in the future.
Thank you to the Author and Publisher for providing me a free copy to review