Monday, 30 May 2022

Escape the Rooms by Stephen Mangan

The last thing Jack expected when he bungee-jumped at the fairground was to end up in a maze of underground rooms...Alongiside, a mysterious girl called Cally he must find the key to unlock each room and find his way home.

At the beginning when I first started reading the story I could "hear" Stephen Mangan's voice in the text. Just some of the phrasing and I think because his voice and tone are so individual that came across in the writing. The beginning of the story certainly felt stronger to me - when (as a reader) you're not really sure what's going on and everything's just a little not right.

Also my favourite funny bit is on page 28 - when they're describing Wanda's teeth which made me laugh out loud. I think at this point I had quite high hopes for where we might be going.

I loved the character of Cally who was so angry and snarky :- 

"I can be smart AND angry,"

I liked the overall theme of dealing with one room at a time and looking for answers and how you can feel like you keep coming back to the same place.

But there was more that I didn't like or just didn't work for me as a reader. Although the beginning was strong I don't think the idea of the rooms could hold up the story -  I found it became repetitive - even the strangest and weirdest thing can become boring when it keeps happening on a loop. 

I didn't like the book having no chapters - I like having a fixed place to stop. I'm presuming this was a thematic choice but for me it ended up adding to the interminable feel.

I wasn't keen on the illustrations.

There's a fair amount of gross-out humour which I think some kids will love and it does tip towards horror in a couple of places which I thought was written well. Horror and humour have always worked well together. Nothing too scary but just a little bit of fear for when Jack and Cally leave the path.

The book deals with fear, loss, grief and bereavement in a way that sometimes felt quite sensitive but at times the message also felt a little heavy-handed - Cally is angry, Jack is apathetic. As the whole book is essentially about fear, loss, grief and bereavement it felt like the message was being continually hammered home.

Do the rooms only choose bereaved children who aren't coping well with loss? I feel like it's been marketed more as an adventure fantasy because that's popular. Whereas perhaps, it's closer to the horror side of the fantasy genre. The rooms are coming to get you if you aren't able to cope in either a way or amount of time that's deemed socially acceptable.

I laughed in a couple of places but overall (the further I got into the story) found this a struggle to read as it wasn't holding my interest and in the end (like Jack and Cally) I just wanted to get through the rooms as quickly as possible so it could be over.

(I received a free copy of this book to review).

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