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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Features fairly brainy characters and is packed with words like "echolocation" and "potentially hazardous," as well as "sinister," which is not just a description but the family name of the kids' mom. Puns and clever/silly wordplay come up often and unexpectedly, as when the kids dub a guy falsely claiming to be their friend Edgar "Edgaren't." The twins, especially Alexander, are fond of libraries, with history and mysteries being their particular favorites. Riffing on the Brontë sisters includes Alexander's astonished review of Wuthering Heights: "Did you know you should never dig up the corpse of your long-dead girlfriend and hang out with her?"
Family, especially the bond between the sibs, is important to the story. Also teamwork, problem-solving, courage, and coming to the rescue of those in trouble. Resilience is a valuable trait as our heroes cope with whatever weird events, unfortunate setbacks, strange phenomena, and mysterious relatives the universe throws at them.
Positive Role Models
Still to be revealed is why Wil, Theo, and Alexander's parents bundled them off to the house of a spooky aunt they didn't know they had, but the kids are doing their best to cope. Sixteen-year-old big sister Wil takes her responsibilities seriously and looks out for her younger sibs (though she also flirts with a teen guy at the waterpark, makes a few friends, and keeps her eyes glued to her phone screen). Twins Theo and Alexander share a strong bond: born holding hands, they still do so in times of stress. Their different interests, personalities, and skills come in handy, as here, when Alexander, a born rule-follower, figures out how to hurry when confronted with a No Running rule: "Alexander knew one of the benefits of always following the rules was knowing exactly what the rules didn't say. 'Skip!' he shouted. It was almost as fast as running, and faster than walking."
Twins Theo and Alexander are described as pale, freckled, and in urgent need of sunscreen, while their older sister Wil, adopted some years before they were born, is described as having dark brown skin. A teen character mentions that he has two dads.
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Violence & Scariness
Lots of creepy and upsetting doings: the kids' summer begins with them being dumped on a mysterious aunt they never knew existed -- and the sudden disappearance of their parents. The waterpark, where cabanas are made to look like mausoleums and rides have names like Oblivion and Cold, Unknowable Sea, offers many scary moments: dark caves, secret passages, coffin-shape rafts, disgusting food (think jellied eels, which terrify a character all by themselves). People have already started disappearing before the kids get there, and quite a few others, including the twins' big sister, also vanish -- some taken prisoner by the villain, others hiding out for safety. In the end, little real harm befalls anyone, although the issue of vanished parents remains unresolved.
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Theo considers breaking the family rule that forbids saying the "F" word -- which in her family is "f-a-r-t."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Wretched Waterpark is the first installment in Kiersten White's middle grade series featuring the adventures of 12-year-old twins Theo and Alexander Sinister-Winterbottom. Along with their older sister, Wil, they find themselves left with a mysterious aunt they didn't know they had as their parents disappear dramatically in the night. Aunt Saffronia is a little vague and spooky, and gets the kids a weeklong pass to the local waterpark, which turns out to be even spookier: The rides have names like Oblivion, the cabanas look like mausoleums, the rafts look like coffins, and people are disappearing at a great rate. There are creepy scenes and spooky moments aplenty, but nobody comes to any real harm, and as the kids work together to figure out what's going on and fix it, there's a lot of silliness, clever wordplay, and sibling teamwork.
Is It Any Good?
Kiersten White launches her middle grade series with creepy doings at the amusement park and clever tweens putting things to rights. First installment Wretched Waterpark leaves much to be resolved in later volumes -- like why the Sinister-Winterbottom parents have vanished, and what their kids are supposed to do about it. There's a lot of cleverness, wordplay, and problem-solving -- as well as a looming sense that there's more peril than fun to be had here:
"'Oh,' Mrs. Widow said, her smile getting bigger in the way you sometimes only see part of a spider but then it crawls out of its hole to reveal sinisterly elegant legs and far more body than you ever wanted a spider to have."
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.