Virtual Book Blog Tour — Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty by Michael A. Carestio
written by Michael A. Carestio
published by Michael A. Carestio 7/15/2013
Age 8 to 12 .
“The Great Recession is punishing families across the land: lost jobs, lost dreams, lost hope. Tough times bring out the best, and worst in people. The sleepy South Jersey shore towns are being hit by a crime wave, a band of robbers boldly breaking into homes right in the middle of a summer day. The cousins of Black Jack Jetty devise a plan to protect home and family. That plan will drag them into the mean streets of the meanest neighborhoods in Atlantic City. That’s where the tale twists and turns like a treacherous rip tide. Lucky will tell you the rest.”
“We’re going to Atlantic City,” Jack says, in a rare display of bravado.”
The cousins, nine-year-olds Riley, Jack, and Nick, seven-year-old Willy, and honorary cousin, nine-year-old Angel are determined to catch the robbers brazen enough to rob in clear daylight. They all fear their home on Black Jack Jetty will be next, thinking the robbers will be looking for the gold coins they recently found belonging to a deceased uncle. (Book 1) The kids go on reconnaissance, including using an old military lookout post on the top of the house. From there they can see most of the area. Angel notices a lot of landscapers, which is not unusual in Margate. Only problem is, these guys never mow a lawn or trim a bush. Out on their bikes the kids go, looking for this black landscaping truck pulling a white trailer. Once found, two of the kids try to take a closer look and end up inside the locked trailer when it takes off to wherever the robbers take it at the end of the day. Two other kids follow the trailer and their cousins, while Willy goes home. He is to tell their Aunt Jane what has happened, but only after two hours have passed. Willy, though visibly distressed, refuses to say a word until those two hours have swept away. Will the cousins safely escape the robber’s trailer? Will the robbers be brought to justice?
First, let me say that the narrator is so annoying that had this not been for a review, I would have tossed the book after page five. The story of Cousins and Robbers is a mere 89 pages, easily a one sitting tale. It took me several days. In frustration, I left the story several times only to pick it up a day or two later—because I had to. The narrator spends more time interjecting opinions and commentary more than he likes to narrate the story. It takes quite a while before you realize the “narrator” is a seagull that can talk. He also physically enters the story near the end.
Lucky’s narration is always in italics, while a normal narrator is in regular print. Yep, two narrators. Plus, I found the paragraphs in italics—one nearly every page—annoying, causing me to shift from story to commentary. This interrupts the actual story, and I do not care what this seagull thinks about the action, the economy, or the Great Recession. This narrator simply interrupts the story, like someone talking about the day’s events while you try to read the paper. Now, kids might enjoy this oft-time funny bird and not feel the distractions I felt. If you ignore all those italic paragraphs, what is left is a decent story, with a good plot, a good conflict, and an interesting ending, though easily solved. I say this with one caveat: in children’s stories, even cops and robbers, kids should be the ones who solve the problems. In this case, the talkative seagull and an adult rescue the kids, rather than the other kids rescuing their mates. Worse, these characters enter the story near the end. I don’t like reading about these great kid characters only to have two new characters (an adult and a seagull), show up in the last ten pages and save the day. In children’s literature, kids solve the problems, are the heroes, and empower the story—and the child reader.
The illustrations, photographs that look like someone’s old vacation pictures, often do not relate to what is happening on the page next to it or in the story as a whole. Granted, illustrations can be the most expensive part of a kid’s book, but if the alternative is confusing photographs that Uncle Jay took on his last vacation, skip them all together. Illustrations should enhance the story and move it along its journey. I believe the author knows how to write a good story. He understands the elements needed for a good story. Maybe he took some bad advice about the seagull playing opinionated narrator, or having the seagull’s narration stand out by italicizing it. A good editor might have caught all of this and had it corrected. Here is the sentence, from the story, about the use of a talking seagull:
“Now before you go thinking what a cheap literary device . . . a talking animal . . . how cliché . . . Get over it . . . please.”
The author calls his use of a talking seagull cliché, and he is right, so why did he use it? Was he saying I know this is cliché but I do not care what you think? No, I think this was a tongue-in-seagull-cheek joke that took a dive, coming across arrogant instead of witty. As for “Get over it,” not possible. There is too much of this talking animal interrupting the story to express its opinion or make an unneeded comment, yet, in its defense, the author/seagull says,
“I am opinionate, informed, and do not suffer fools lightly.”
Oh, and the prologue, which I do not like anyway, is nothing more than the identical repetition of three pages (41, 42, 43) from the middle of the book. What is the reason for this? It seems like the author knows what he needs to do, but insists on not doing it or does it incorrectly. Don’t waste your time with the prologue. Skip it and start at the beginning of the story at Chapter 1. Now, the good. Boys will enjoy this tale of cops and robbers. They, as I, will like Angel, the “guest cousin” whose father is in jail for robbery. Angel is a taller and bigger than average nine-year-old who could have saved the day. That would have been a great ending. Angle would have earned the position of a cousin and I would have looked forward to further adventures with Angel in the group. Kids will also like the bicycle chase. It has loads of adventure, suspense, and humor.
While Cousins and Robbers needs tuned—lengthening the story, correct the typos—the elements for a great kid’s story are there. The writing is good. The plot is good. The cousins are good characters that speak to kids and are easy to like. The conflict is believable. There is a nice twist. The adult characters, while they take on too much of the story (important sections like the ending), most are characters one can like. The setting is fabulous. Not just on the beach, but at a house that sticks out into the bay, looking dangerously defenseless—though defenseless it or its occupants are not. Kids will like Cousins and Robbers. They might even think Lucky’s squawking narration is funny. It is witty in an annoying way. You never know what will influence a child while he or she reads a story. A good plot, convincing conflicts, excellent writing, and, humorous twists are great if not marred down by a cliché. Remove the unnecessary. Build on what really works. Write for kids. Think like a kid. Let the kids be the heroes. Accomplishing those, while not always easy, could bring Cousins and Robbers to the level of a Best of 2014 novel for children. The current story is a good start.
COUSINS AND ROBBERS: TALES OF BLACK JACK JETTY. Text copyright © 2013 by Michael A. Carestio. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Tony Auth, Alex Forbes, et al. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Michael A. Carestio, Philadelphia, PA.
Learn more about Cousins and Robbers . . . HERE.
About Michael A. Carestio
. . .
Virtual Book Blog Tour
Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty
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