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Kaline Klattermaster's Tree House
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that parents are portrayed poorly here. Kaline's father, who abandons the family and doesn't communicate until the end, is obsessive. His mother is distant, uncommunicative, inept at performing the most basic functions of daily existence, and she doesn't believe her child when he tries to tell her about being bullied and robbed.
What's the story?
Kaline's father is obsessively orderly, and his mother is disorganized and forgetful. Perhaps inevitably, his father leaves the family, so Kaline, with no help from his mother forthcoming, is left to deal with his scattered home life, and bullies at school, by dreaming up imaginary older brothers and a giant tree house where they live with 100 puppies.
Is it any good?
The author tries VERY HARD to be charming and funny, but she's NOT VERY GOOD at it. So what she ends up with is simply IRRITATING and WEIRD (and apparently she thinks that narrating with frequent ALL CAPS is cute -- it isn't). In her attempt to make her characters humorously eccentric and quirky she ends up, apparently accidentally, delineating a family that seems more disabled than eccentric: a father who clearly suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mother who is pathologically incapable of dealing with ordinary life, and a main character who seems borderline autistic.
Further, she attempts to use the father's OCD tendencies to make him less sympathetic than the mother, but accomplishes the opposite. Readers, who will understand clearly why he left, may be forgiven for hoping that when he returns he will take Kaline away to live with him. That is, if they care at all, for the characters are so off-putting that there's little actual emotional involvement. Even Kaline's eventual solution to the bully problem -- he stands up to them by lying about his nonexistent older brothers and they slink away, abashed, to pick on someone else -- seems forced. Even more so when Kaline's mother bursts into the classroom yelling and threatening the 8-year-old bullies with the police and physical harm. Humor and charm require a light and natural touch (see the Other Choices section), but when troweled on artlessly the effort shows, and they become simply painful and annoying.