Sometimes books can break cardinal writing rules and still get published. Of those, a few are of high enough quality to prove to the world that rules can and should be broken. Unfortunately, others such as The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger prove the opposite.
One cardinal rule is not to start with the back story. The reason? Readers don’t yet have a reason to care for the main character and so even the smallest account of the main character’s past will bore them. In The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, Angleberger dedicates not just the first paragraph or the first page but the entire first chapter to an introduction of Dwight. He’s a character who apparently got suspended in the second book and has since switched schools, taking his Origami Yoda with him. While Dwight is an integral character in the lives of other main characters, and does eventually figure more in the current story, at this point he’s a character in absentia. Moreover, his origami and the related case files are meaningless to me. At this point I’m thinking: Who cares?
Another cardinal rule is to introduce an interesting conflict as soon as possible. I guess one could quibble here about how interesting of a problem it is that Dwight has switched schools, his old friends are bored, and Tommy needs to start a case file without him. Maybe it’s not these scenarios that are dull, but rather Angleberger’s execution of them. Dwight is apparently the only one who can keep Tommy and his friends from doing dumb stuff. He’s also the only reason they have anything worth doodling about. Oh, and they’re now too scared to talk to girls. One of the group members, Harvey, still has a tongue but he’s always just loud and rude. Tell you what, by the end of the first chapter, I’m starting to feel as if at a slumber party where everyone is a little overtired, sounding whiny and weird, but no one has the sense to sleep. If I’d read the books in order, then maybe my preexisting affection for these characters would have seen me through. But because I started with the third book, I had no affection, just annoyance. Even worse, I’m still thinking: Who cares?
A third cardinal rule, and the last I’ll cover in this review, is to stick to one point of view. Okay, let me modify that to say that one can write a story from multiple viewpoints but only if one can create clearly distinguishable characters. I’ll give Angleberger credit that first, whenever he switches viewpoints, he also starts a new chapter. Second, the first few chapters are mostly from Tommy’s viewpoint and so I finally started to feel comfortable with him. After that, though, almost every chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, which meant half the time I’d reach the end of a chapter and have to refer back to the start to know who the heck the story was about. After a while I developed the habit of checking for this info at the front of every new chapter, but that still didn’t make me feel any less frustrated. At least most of these later stories were interesting enough that I did finally start to care.
To end on a positive note, I did appreciate Angleberger’s message. Remember how I said that Dwight would eventually figure into the story more? Well, turns out that Dwight has fit into his new school too well, to the point that he is almost perfect. He does everything his parents tell him to do, never argues with his peers, and spends most of his time doing homework. His friends intervene to help him escape, because they miss the weird and wacky Dwight. Many teens have inner quirks which they’re afraid to share. Angleberger offers reassurances that it’s okay to be different. I just wish that this message had been contained a more engaging package.
My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.
How would you rate this book?