Alcatraz versus The Knights of Crystallia is Brandon Sanderson’s third book in this YA series and I have several confessions to make. One is that I haven’t read the first two Alcatraz books. The second is that I am not Y. Not even close. Usually, I don’t feel that hinders my reviews of YA books. But as I read much of Alcatraz, I started to wonder if I’d become the old guy in a bathrobe yelling “Get off my lawn ya lousy kids!” while waving a hairy-knuckled fist in the offenders’ general direction. Maybe, gasp, I just didn’t get the “Y” in YA anymore.
What tipped me off? Maybe the occasional reference to farts or “potty breaks,” the character who thinks curses in the Hushworld (our world) are phrases like “farting barf-faced poop” or “explosive diarrhea.” Maybe the self-aware references to how “annoying” the main character knew he was being, or the self-aware references to being a story or the self-aware direct addresses to the reader. Maybe the constant breaks in narrative.
In any case, what I mostly felt like during all this wasn’t that I was reading a YA book but reading a book targeted at a YA audience, which somehow doesn’t seem quite the same to me. More specifically, a book targeted at a male YA audience or at least what an adult imagines a male YA audience is.
But, perhaps I am the old guy on the porch. Maybe this is what a YA audience wants. It is, after all, the third book in the series, so Brandon Sanderson must be doing something right. But to be honest, mostly the ADD nature of the story combined with the “potty” talk just wearied and annoyed me. The plot is a whirlwind made more chaotic by the narrator’s constant intrusions (“LOOK OVER THERE”, “Yes, this is foreshadowing”) and silly jokes. The humor, the breaks, and the whole persona of the main character felt forced and crafted.
Which is too bad because underneath all the noise meant to attract (I assume) young males were the fixings of a decent story and solid characters and some thoughtful looks at subjects such as fame and self-esteem. Even some of the jokes were funny, save that they were overshadowed by the three that had just occurred and the three that followed almost immediately after. By the end, when the adolescent fireworks were toned down, I felt myself actually becoming interested in the story and what happened to the characters, whereas earlier I mostly wanted him to stop yelling at me.
I can’t recommend this book because I simply didn’t enjoy most of my time reading it, despite some good moments. But I also, for perhaps the first time, feel much less sure about not recommending it. I can’t imagine many people enjoying it, but the book also made me wonder if I can imagine anymore what a 12-yr-old boy does enjoy. After all, I also don’t get Twitter or The Farting Dog books. The list, I’m afraid, of things I don’t get is getting frighteningly long…
So: not recommended, but feel free to have your 12-yr-old take it for a spin. If he likes it, just think of me now and then on that porch. In my bathrobe.