Gregory Maguire is best known for his re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s Oz in the Wicked Years Series. He has written several other books that having nothing to do with wicked witches or lions, and many have been children’s books. What-the-Dickens is a young adult novel that he wrote. It involves a rogue tooth fairy who is named What-the-Dickens by accident.
The story is told by Gage, a young Language Arts teacher who is watching over his small cousins during a hurricane. To pass the time, he tells the three children about What-the-Dickens and the skibbereen. When he is into this world, What-the-Dickens is already an orphan. He remembers nothing before waking up in a discarded tuna can. He encounters cats, birds, tigers, and a old lady before meeting one of his own kind. Because of his unknown past, What-the-Dickens is an outcast, and he must learn the ways of the skibbereen.
I’ve enjoyed most of Maguire’s books, especially the Wicked Years Series, but this one is certainly lacking. At many points in the story, I was just plain annoyed by the skibbereen characters, and occasionally wanted to choke the children being told the story. The ending also leaves something to be desired as there is no real resolution. The skibereen story ends decently enough, though with the obvious, trope-like question of “Was it real, or just a story?” It’s the story of Gage and the children that leaves the story wanting. The reason the kids are left with Gage and are not with their parents is due to an emergency. Their mother is a diabetic and ran out of insulin supplies due to the storm and lack of electricity. The father takes the mother out in the storm in search of help. They never return and the reader is left wondering if they even survived the raging storm.
This book exasperated me at times. I found parts annoying and pedantic, and as soon as it finally grabbed my attention (the last 100 or so pages), it just stops. The sun comes out, and you’re left wondering what the hell happened. It is far from Maguire’s best work. I recommend sticking to his more adult books.