Review: Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye

198. Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye
Publication: Yearling; Reprint edition (April 28, 2009), Paperback, 304pp / ISBN 0375840761
Genre: MG, Speculative Fiction?
Rating: Borrow it
Read: October 16, 2010
Source: Bought
Summary from Amazon:

When Milton and Marlo Fauster die in a marshmallow-bear explosion, they get sent straight to Heck, an otherworldly reform school. Milton can understand why his kleptomaniac sister is here, but Milton is—or was—a model citizen. Has a mistake been made? Not according to Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the Principal of Darkness. She doesn’t make mistakes. She personally sees to it that Heck—whether it be home ec class with Lizzie Borden, ethics with Richard Nixon, or gym with Blackbeard the pirate—is especially, well, heckish for the Fausters. Will Milton and Marlo find a way to escape? Or are they stuck here for all eternity, or until they turn eighteen, whichever comes first?

Review

Okay, so here’s the thing about this book: it seems like it should be a lot more enjoyable than it really is. Read the plot summary. Doesn’t that sound like a fun book? It does, and it IS a fun book, but it’s not a REALLY fun book. It’s not as magical as it should be for a book set in hell and starring precocious preteens, and that’s disappointing.

I didn’t mind the grossness, like some other reviewers. I’m used to it from Roald Dahl and the Captain Underpants books, and anyway, it was gross in a fun way. I liked the characters and thought they were pretty well-developed for an MG book (I’ve seen worse, basically). I liked the literary and pop culture references– Lizzie Borden is the home ec teacher, for instance, and Richard Nixon is the ethics teacher. It started off slow-moving but soon picked up speed, and the ending was really exciting.

But. But! It was just so-so. The writing wasn’t overly great, and there were plotholes that the narrative acknowledged but did nothing to fix. Why?! If you know there’s problems with your world’s setup…fix it! Don’t just lampshade it and then not follow through with a patch. And, overall, I think if I was a kid and I was reading this I’d think it was boring.

As an adult, I recognize almost all of the references and why hell is set up the way it is (except for the plotholes…) and etc. I get it. As a kid, I wouldn’t recognize them, simply because back then I hadn’t read any Dante yet and I wasn’t Catholic (still not Catholic, for that matter), and I wouldn’t have understood most of it except for the poop jokes. Not that I’m saying kids shouldn’t read it, or that they wouldn’t enjoy it or that they wouldn’t get the references. Kids are smart, and they like poop jokes, and they’d probably like this book. And I’m not saying that just because you don’t understand everything in a book you can’t enjoy it. But the references are a BIG PART of the story, and when you don’t know who Richard Nixon is, would the scene with him freaking out about ethics be half as funny? I don’t think so.

I guess kids could always ask their parents about Nixon, or use Google or something, but…eh. It’s an uneven reading experience, and I don’t think it’s got a clever enough story or good enough writing to interest adults (that don’t already read YA books, I mean). And while it might interest kids, plot-wise, a lot of the details would be lost when they’re reading it, which makes for a subpar reading experience (I know this from experience). So basically, I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

However, if you’re the sort of person who likes poop jokes along with your literary references, and you don’t mind simplistic writing and witticisms that really aren’t, you might like Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. Even if you’re just interested in the story because it sounds fun, you might like Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. But I’d recommend borrowing it over buying it.

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