A Series of Unfortunate Events (Books 1-4)

For years I’ve been meaning to re-read A Series of Unfortunate Events from beginning to end. Partly because I loved these books as a middle schooler, and partly because there was such a big stretch of time between the first book and the last book that I remember reading The End and not getting it because so much time had passed. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which came out in January was finally the excuse I needed to take the time to re-read these. WARNING: some light spoilers ahead.

Overall impressions:

  • Count Olaf is hands down the most comical aspect of this series
  • Mr. Poe is the worst and TBH really annoying
  • I didn’t realize as a kid how big of a drunk Olaf is
  • This series takes on much heavier themes for children; going back as an adult, I admire Lemony Snicket’s pluck. He treats kids with the maturity they deserve. In every situation, the Baudelaire’s know what’s up, and the adults are blinded by ego, greed, “logic,” etc.

The Bad Beginning: The antics of Count Olaf in The Bad Beginning were actually a lot more cruel than I remembered – not to mention seriously creepy. A plot for a much older man to marry a 14 year old girl makes my skin crawl as an adult.

The Reptile Room: I remember this one as being my favorite, but didn’t necessarily feel the same way upon re-reading it. Yes, Uncle Monty is still the bomb, but a lot of the action of The Reptile Room revolved around who would ride in which car (if you’ve read this series you probably remember this part because it actually takes up about 40% of it). Amusing? Definitely. Lacking in action? Definitely. But Count Olaf getting carried away with his bragging and giving himself away was classic.

The Wide Window: I remembered not loving this one, and upon my re-reading felt the same way. However, I had a new appreciation for Aunt Josephine’s proclivity for grammar and general fear of all things – particularly realtors. Feel that. When you think about it though, Aunt Josephine was actually a fairly tragic figure. She lost her husband to the Lachrymose Leeches and then she suffered the same fate. Heavy stuff. Once again, Mr. Poe is oblivious to Olaf’s wiles, and by the third book his ignorance began to wear thin.

The Miserable Mill: Three words: Child labor laws. Anyway, I struggled through this one, as I recall doing when I was 12. I almost feel like the setting is just a little too bleak, considering the Baudelaire’s already have had a rough go of it. Also, there wasn’t even an explanation offered about why they went to go live at the Mill. What happened to the requirement about living with a relative? However, Olaf as Shirley is gold.

-M

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Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio; 2012

Everyone should ready Wonder for a lesson in kindness. I’m not really a fan of those signs in Barnes & Noble that say “Books Everyone Should Read” because #thecanon. However, this book has a very practical, universal, and meaningful lesson for everyone: “kinder than necessary.”

Ten-year-old August Pullman was born with several genetic abnormalities. Inside, August knows that he’s just like everyone else. But after 27 surgeries, people who see him for the first time do “that look-away thing,” if they manage to hide their shock at all. August is terrified when his parents want him to start the fifth grade at Beecher Prep instead of being homeschooled. Though targeted by Julian, the fifth grade bully, August eventually gains a camaraderie of good friends who see him for who he really is: a funny, smart, generous boy.

Wonder is narrated by August and other children around him, including his sister, Via, and his friend Jack. Through these varying perspectives we get a better understanding of the transformative role that August has on the people around him. The close relationships that August has with his parents and friends reminds us that this type of support and love is what’s most important. We walk away thinking that with all of the love that he has to give and receive, August may just be in an enviable position.