A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
There's a little bit of bona fide science in Carlos' experiments, but that's about it.
Lurking under the commercialism and the oft-repeated loyalty to the cause of evil, there's the glimmer of a message about kids, even evil ones, learning to work together and maybe even be friends. But for that, you'll have to watch the series.
Positive Role Models
The characters are 16, but their emotional development seems to have stopped at about age 6, when a fateful birthday party defined their future relationships. Carlos and Evie are slightly more inclined toward positive qualities such as kindness and compassion, but in keeping with their upbringing they do their best to repress these feelings. Over the course of the story, all four villain kids start questioning their parents' values. Prince Ben struggles with his kingly responsibilities (as well as his sweet but airheaded fiancée) but always strives to do the right thing.
Violence & Scariness
Since villains are pretty thick on the ground here, there's a lot of gruff talk and bad behavior (for example, when Mal steals a cup of coffee, the vendor, a goblin, threatens to boil her in the coffee pot). There are creepy scenes and monstrous characters, but it's mostly cartoonish.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The characters, age 16, make childish jokes about not being each other's type when their adventures force them to hold hands. Aside from occasional references to Mal's unidentified but despised human father (sure to figure in future episodes), there's little detail on how the thoroughly disagreeable villains produced children, as only one parent is in evidence for each. One scene involves a kissing game at a party, which doesn't actually happen. For reasons yet to be explained, Mal and Ben dream about each other.
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Multiple uses of "crap," "poop," and the like.
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Products & Purchases
Aside from the nonstop references to events and conflicts in dozens of Disney products on nearly every page, the goblins serve their brews in Starbucks sizes, and one of the riddles the beauty-queen character solves involves the colors of Revlon lipsticks. One of the chapters is called "The Girl with the Double Dragon Tattoo," a reference to the non-kid-friendly thriller series. And so on.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the relentlessly hyped Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz serves as a prequel to the (also relentlessly hyped) Disney Channel series The Descendants and is itself the first of a multivolume book series. Its intriguing premise -- 16-year-old children of Disney villains embark on a quest -- quickly devolves into a half-baked plot with thinly developed, unlikable characters and constant plugola for half the Disney catalog. In an apparent effort to distinguish the series from G-rated Disney fare, characters say "crap" a fair amount.
Is It Any Good?
Spin-offs of classic tales are as old as the hills, and lots of them are great; this one, however, reads like a glib, cynical effort to wring a few more bucks out of venerable Disney properties. Gothic/YA author Melissa de la Cruz seems to have been given the thankless task of bringing to life a raft of characters who are essentially ciphers, with clumsy, broad-brush results that leave you with little reason to care about them or their issues:
"Evie was torn. On the one hand, she knew she should stay away from Mal if she wanted to be safe, but on the other, she never got to hang out with kids her age.
"Evil Queen nodded. 'Sure! I'll see you at home, sweetie.' As she left, she mouthed, 'Reapply your lip gloss!'"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.