Today, I'm reviewing The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant! It's a quirky, delightful story that's sure to appeal to fans of The Luck Uglies, The Mysterious Benedict Society and Heidi Schulz!
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 28th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers (first published February 1st 2015)
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Anastasia is a completely average almost-eleven-year-old. That is, UNTIL her parents die in a tragic vacuum-cleaner accident. UNTIL she’s rescued by two long-lost great-aunties. And UNTIL she’s taken to their delightful and, er, “authentic” Victorian home, St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
But something strange is going on at the asylum. Anastasia soon begins to suspect that her aunties are not who they say they are. So when she meets Ollie and Quentin, two mysterious brothers, the three join together to plot their great escape!
Which is why when I was sent The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Random House, I did a little cheer and immediately picked up the book.
Things that worked:
From page one, it's pretty apparent that author Holly Grant has a gift for writing amusing, quirky characterizations. We're introduced to Anastasia, an almost-eleven-year-old girl with strange parents and an unfortunate case of bad flatuence.
While Anastasia is a pretty atypical heroine, that's also one of the best things about her. Grant makes it clear from early on that because Anastasia doesn't have extraordinary powers to get her out of scrapes, it's completely up to her wit to help her when she's unceremoniously ushered to St. Agony's, and she needs to figure out how what's going on.
It's a nice reminder that being intelligent and resourceful will often solve every problem around you, and it will definitely serve as a nice lesson for younger readers.
Writing, illustrations and setting
The second you see the cover and synopsis for The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, it's pretty obvious that the book is going to involve a creepy Victorian mansion, and gothic-inspired adventures of some kind.
However, it's not until you start actually reading Grant's writing, that you'll realize how fully-immersed you'll become in Anastasia's world. As Kirkus stated in their starred review, Grant is exceptionally talented in coming up with evocative sentences like, "A pink-patterned carpet runner spooled down the steps like a monstrous spotty tongue." It's deliciously imaginative, while also sure to delight (and gross out) younger readers. When added all together, Grant's sentences basically become a fully-immersive effect that will refuse to let readers go.
Grant's deliciously creepy writing is more than accentuated by Portillo's equally elegantly creepy drawings. Portillo's work is deifnitely invocative of Edward Gorey, and will keep readers reading.
Both Anastasia and the reader are unceremoniously pulled into a mystery that they don't fully understand in the earlier chapters of the novel. Grant does a great job of showing Anastasia's complete befuddlement and despair at suddenly having to deal with dead parents and mysterious lumps, and it's not too much of a stretch to say that the reader feels equally confused, and somewhat creeped out.
But after the dust settles and Anastasia starts adjusting, we see her gradually begin to peel away at the mysteries of the situation like the layers of an onion. Grant does a great job of showing her curiosity and natural instinct, solve a mystery that is beyond anything that Anastasia could have imagined.
The emphasis on an adult presence
If you've read any of my previous reviews, you'll know that one of my biggest pet peeves is a lack of an adult presence in MG/YA literature.
This is definitely not the case in Beastly Dreadfuls. While it becomes fairly apparent early on that the aunts are not to be trusted, Grant does provide Anastasia with more than a number of reliable adult figures who work with her and protect her in moments of danger.
I especially liked knowing that these adults have been working independently to keep an eye on Anastasia - even before she was fully cognizant of that fact - it's a nice reminder that not all adults are evil villians.
While Grant has crafted a perfect ending for Anastasia and her cohorts, she also leaves a lot of curious, intriguing loose ends that all but demand to be answered in a second book.
Fortunately for us, we only have to wait until February 2016 for book two to come out!
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
While Holly Grant is an exceptional writer, I do think that some readers are going to find issue with the fact that the narrative voice is very similar to those of writers like Lemony Snicket and Heidi Schulz. There's a definite emphasis on breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader, and it makes the book feel very self-aware at times.
I personally enjoyed Grant's style - it's a quirky way of making readers take an active role throughout the narration- but I can also see readers disliking it and comparing to predecessors. It's definitely a question of personal preference, and definitely something good to keep in mind while reading.
I recommend this book for young readers who are looking for adventures
Check out the book trailer:
About the author:
HOLLY GRANT likes to dream about magic hiding in birthday candles and silver snow globes and golden keyholes and peculiarful books squirreled away in forgotten nooks and crannies. Her lifelong hope is to discover a secret door that opens upon a mysterious and wonderful place. In the meantime, she lives in Colorado and writes stories for children like you. Visit Holly and the Beastly Dreadfuls at BeastlyDreadfuls.com.