A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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?
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. He’s 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- 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
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 13
- Number of pages: 136
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 21, 2021
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