The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

Common Sense Media says

Dark, funny tale of mean boy trying to end his nine lives.

Age(i)

2
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8
9
10
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15
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Author John Bemelmans Marciano tosses about many historical references in describing the notorious history of the Baddenfield family, describing their supposed involvement in buying Manhattan from the Native Americans living there and, later, putting the blame on George Washington for chopping down the cherry tree Baddenfield actually felled. There's a description of the myth of Icarus, a long chapter about bullfighting that includes a number of Spanish phrases, and scenes about different parts of New York City.  

Positive messages

Alexander Baddenfield is evil through and through, with no redeeming qualities. The story, intended to be humorous (and it is occasionally), is unrelentingly dark and negative until the very end.

Positive role models

Alexander is one awful 12-year-old: spoiled rotten, mean to everyone, and fixated on death. His servant Winterbottom is not a bad person, but he is the worst sort of enabler, giving in to every one of Alexander's cruel and masochistic whims.

Violence

The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield presents a litany of gruesome ways that Alexander, who has had the nine lives of his pet cat surgically implanted in him, conceives to kill himself, just for the thrill of it, because, "Death is cool!" The descriptions of his many deaths are often graphic and range from his being electrocuted by the third rail on the New York subway to a car crash ("The boy went crashing through the windshield, was sent hurtling across the street, and smashed skull-first into a brick wall"), to being gored in a bull ring: "Winterbottom could hear the cracking of Alexander's ribs, each one like a broomstick being broken over a knee. Then came a sickening pop -- Alexander's lung -- and another pop -- Alexander's other lung."  There are also violent episodes in which Alexander doesn't die. Some of Sophie Blackall's black-and-white illustrations depict Alexander's deaths.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Sex
Not applicable
Language

No profanity, but a few strong insults, as when Alexander yells at a toreador: "You old, crotchety, good-for-nothing, too-tight-pants-wearing, nose-stuck-up-in-the-air, Spanish pile of smelly dog caca!"

Consumerism

A few passing references to products such as Tums, Mentos candy, and Coke.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield is by John Bemelmans Marciano, grandson of Madeleine creator Ludwig Bemelmans and author of several Madeline books. But don't let that connection fool you into thinking this is a book for young kids; it's not. It's violent from beginning to end, full of graphic descriptions of horrible deaths. The central character is bratty, self-centered, cruel, insensitive, and dangerously masochistic. He derives pleasure from conceiving of different ways to kill himself (because he literally has the nine lives a cat). The book is clearly intended to be darkly funny, and the author skillfully establishes a humorously foreboding tone through the story's narration, but parents and some kids will no doubt be put off by the nonstop accounts of truly bad behavior and grisly ends. "Macabre" doesn't begin to describe this book. Some of Sophie Blackall's fine black-and-white illustrations depict Alexander's deaths; some help lighten the mood.   

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Alexander Baddenfield is the last surviving member of a villainous family line that's been responsible for all sorts of despicable acts over the past several centuries. Their only \"good\" quality is that they tend to die young and suffer disgraceful deaths. Rich, cruel, and self-centered Alexander attempts to change his fate by forcing a mad scientist to implant in him the nine lives of a cat. Unfortunately, this doesn't change his personality -- rather, it gives him the idea to conceive of creative ways to kill himself, since he has so many lives to spare. Accompanied by his faithful servant Winterbottom (whose ancestors served previous Baddenfields), Alexander tempts death in myriad ways, including leaping off the Empire State Building with Icarus-like wings, touching the electrified third rail of the New York subway, getting up-close and personal with an enormous python, and entering a bull ring as a toreador. Will these experiences change Alexander's outlook on life, or is he just a bad seed?

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

In THE 9 LIVES OF ALEXANDER BADDENFIELD, author John Bemelman Marciano has created a hateful (and hateable) character who's all bad, all the time, and obsessed with the idea of killing himself in unusual ways just for the fun of it, since he has managed to have the nine lives of his pet cat surgically implanted in him. It's a funny, crazy premise, and Marciano's omniscient, Lemony Snicket-esque narrator guides us through one horrifying episode after another with a sort of amused detachment. The characters are so broad, and some of the situations so ridiculous, it's hard to take the relentless violence too seriously. Even so, it does become somewhat tiresome and numbing after a while.

Things pick up toward the end when Alexander goes to Spain to be a bullfighter, and there are even hints of redemption for this black-souled child, a welcome relief from the darkness. Sophie Blackall's fine illustrations help lighten things a bit.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the disturbing notion at the heart of The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield: that "death is cool." Do you think it's strange for a kids' book to be about death?

  • What do you think Alexander has learned about life and death by the end of the book?

  • If you couldn't have the supposed nine lives of a cat, what animal trait would you like to have?

Book details

Author:John Bemelmans Marciano
Illustrator:Sophie Blackall
Genre:Horror
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Cats, dogs, and mice, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Viking Juvenile
Publication date:October 3, 2013
Number of pages:136
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 13
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield was written by

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