Is anyone else hesitant to read a favorite author’s work outside of their usual genre? I’ve loved Brandon Sanderson for years, but I’ve been extremely reluctant to try his young adult or middle grade offerings. I know that he writes addictive, immersive adult fantasy and was afraid to find out if that carried over into other genres intended for radically different audiences. I shouldn’t have doubted him. Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians was my first foray into Sanderson’s middle grade books, and it definitely won’t be my last.
“If you don’t believe what I’m telling you, then ask yourself this: would any decent, kind-hearted individual become a writer? Of course not.”
First of all, who names their protagonist Alcatraz Smedry? Sanderson, that’s who. The silliness of that name sets the tone for the entire book, in my opinion. His story opens on his 13th birthday when a gift from one or both of his birth parents arrives on the doorstep of his current foster home. It’s sand. Yep, sand. Not exactly the kind of gift you hope to receive from parents you’ve never met and aren’t even sure are still alive. So Alcatraz starts doing what he does best as he processes this unusual gift; he break things. It’s this talent for breaking things that has kept the multitude of foster families who have taken him in over the years from keeping Alcatraz for very long. And who can blame them? Alcatraz sure doesn’t.
“Authors also create lovable, friendly characters, then proceed to do terrible things to them, like throw them in unsightly librarian-controlled dungeons. This makes readers feel hurt and worried for the characters. The simple truth is that authors like making people squirm. If this weren’t the case, all novels would be filled completely with cute bunnies having birthday parties.”
The story spirals from there. Alcatraz is visited by Grandpa Smedry, who he has never even met. The bag of sand, which Alcatraz had thought such a pointless gift, is actually super important and has been stolen by Alcatraz’s social worker while he wasn’t paying attention. Come to find out, said social worker is actually part of a cabal of evil librarians who have taken over the majority of the world. And Alcatraz is actually a member of a famous family of Free Kingdomers, those still battling against the librarians in hopes of saving the world. Who would’ve guessed?
“By now it is probably very late at night, and you have stayed up to read this book when you should have gone to sleep. If this is the case, then I commend you for falling into my trap. It is a writer’s greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books.”
As he begins his search for this weirdly important bag of sand with Grandpa Smedry, Alcatraz learns that basically everything he knows is a lie. The world is not what he thinks it is. There’s a family out there that loves him, and sees him as smart and talented instead of a mess. And librarians are evil. Never forget that librarians are out to get you. Which I found surprising information, seeing as I once worked as a children’s librarian. Thank goodness I managed to escape before I got in too deep.
“You see, that is the sad, sorry, terrible thing about sarcasm.
It’s really funny.”
My favorite thing about this book is Alcatraz’s voice. He is one of the snarkiest, most sarcastic narrators I’ve ever come across and I absolutely love it. Very rarely is a narrator’s voice as strong and self-aware as the voice Sanderson delivered through Alcatraz, and I was ecstatic to find that in this book. Also, this book is just so funny on multiple levels. The plot and the characters are silly in the best way, which I think will really appeal to readers, especially those in the target audience. But Sanderson also uses Alcatraz to voice some hilarious views on books and reading and authorship, which to me was the best part of the story and is the one of the two reasons I rounded my 4.5 star rating up instead of down.
“Authors write books for one, and only one, reason: because we like to torture people.”
The other reason I rounded up my rating is how the magic system mirrors the foundation of Sanderson’s faith. In this novel, Alcatraz finds out that he is an oculator, one who can use different lenses to see or interact differently with the world. If you think that the idea of glasses helping to hone power feels oddly familiar, you’re not wrong. According to tradition, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was led by the angel Moroni to a set of golden plates that contained the Book of Mormon. Human eyes were unable to translate the markings, but two stones known as the Urim and Thummim were preserved in the same stone box as the plate. Smith used these stones as lens through which to translate the plates. While this legend has since been questioned by scholars both within and outside of the LDS church, I feel that it’s not a stretch to imagine that Sanderson used this story as a bit of inspiration for the Smedry family’s oculatory powers.
“Alcatraz actually knows a person named Brandon Sanderson. That man, however, is a fantasy writer and is therefore prone to useless bouts of delusion in literary form.”
This book was an absolute joy to read. If I was still a teacher, I would undoubtedly be reading this book to my classes, and pushing it into the hands of other students. I will definitely be reading the next book, and will probably read the rest of the series. Sorry for doubting you, Sanderson. I should’ve known that you can write amazing fantasy for any age, and that readers of any age could enjoy the books you aim at younger readers. I promise not to doubt you again.
As I am not a member of the LDS Church, please be aware that I can neither speak for the church nor explain their beliefs. If you’re interested in learning more about Joseph Smith, you can visit the Joseph Smith Foundation here. To learn more about the LDS Church, you can visit their official website here.
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