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18 January 2015

Book Review | We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler | February 2015 | Bloomsbury | $26.00


I really struggled to get through this one -- and, in fact, didn't. Finish it, I mean. The only reason I even tried to finish it is because it is only 280-something pages. But... nope.

Here's the thing: I've seen a few negative reviews that compare the author's Lemony Snicket works to this one. But how can that be fair? Those are fantastical books for kids. This is realistic fiction for adults. Apples and oranges. I'm starting to understand why J.K. Rowling chose to publish her grown-up books under pen names. People can't help but judge what someone has written in comparison to their previous works, no matter how silly the comparison is.

I bring this up because I haven't read the Lemony Snicket books. I have nothing to compare the author's latest offering to. And I still didn't like it.

A big, big part of what made me put We Are Pirates down, never to be picked up again, is the writing style. We're talking lots of short, chopped up sentences within rambling stream-of-consciousness-y paragraphs. I have never particularly loved this style of writing.

Here's a sample:

I don't know... if that quote looks appealing to you, maybe you'll enjoy this book?

I was also pretty regularly confused. Wait, who is our POV character right now? What is going on? What is the meaning of all this?!?! This is probably a failure of attention on my own part, but there you have it. The book was just not holding my attention.

Add to this the extremely self-centered, boring, petty characters and you have a recipe for a bad book. I'm not whining about how the characters are "unlikable" -- I mean, yeah, they are, but that's not the point. The point is that they aren't actually interesting.

Going with 2 stars instead of 1 because (a) despite my being bored by the characters, Handler really works hard to make the reader feel immersed in realistic, believable people's brains and (b) that 1 star thing is usually reserved for books I outright dislike, and I'm merely disappointed in this one.

It's really too bad, because I had very much been looking forward to reading this! The book was favorably reviewed in trade pubs (Kirkus calls it "affecting, lively, and expertly told" and the PW review actually uses the word "jaunty"). I loved the concept and the cover art and Daniel Handler has a pretty good reputation.

Maybe the exception to that good reputation is his distasteful joke at the expense of NBA winner Jacqueline Woodson this past December. I mean, Handler is obviously well-liked enough to have been invited to help host the event, but he definitely put his foot in his mouth and soured the occasion. I do think he apologized magnificently, though, with his massive donation to We Need Diverse Books, a group that supports writers of color and books featuring characters of color (and similarly underrepresented groups).

So in an effort to end this negative review on a positive note, I want to point y'all in the direction of We Need Diverse Books!

Publication information:
Handler, Daniel. We Are Pirates. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. EPUB file.

Provided by publisher via NetGalley.

I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wattle said...

Great review! I think you were very balanced in explaining why you didn't finish it and your rating :) I must admit, I've tried reading Lemony Snicket and I kind of hated it, so I very much doubt this one is a book for me. But I am totally going to check out We Need Diverse Books because that sounds like a great cause!

Louise said...

Aw, thank you. :)

I follow WNDB on Tumblr and I feel like I learn something new every time they post!

La Coccinelle said...

All I have to say to that sample is: WTFLOL!

Seriously... I think I'd rather be forced to swallow baby porcupines than try to get through a whole novel written in that style.

I tried to read the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, but didn't get very far. I guess I just don't like the author's style. (Although, I did enjoy a couple of his picture books. I reviewed them on my site.)

Anya E. J. said...

I haven't read the Lemony Snickett books either and it honestly took me a minute to realize why you mentioned that, HAHA. I agree with you that the writing just seems a bit odd and not terribly appealing, hm. Another of my friends had to DNF and I can see why now! I just don't really like these sort of adult books, oh well!

Louise said...

"I think I'd rather be forced to swallow baby porcupines than try to get through a whole novel written in that style." Haha, yes, exactly! I'll have to check out those picture books....

Louise said...

Yeah, odd is right. I mean, some reviews are kinda positive, so it must appeal to somebody? But I ain't got time for that.

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