Somehow, I missed Pinkwater’s works when I was growing up. I rectified that not long ago when Sarah B. pointed me towards Lizard Music, a delightfully weird young adult tale of a young teen who is left on his own for the first time and end up exploring the city around him. ‘Adventures of a Dwergish Girl‘ reminded me very much of that book, only, oddly, both more and less well-written. I think I’d recommend that one over this, odd and perhaps less-accessible as it may be.
Though Dwergish Girl is ostensibly young adult, the beginning is very text-dense, with a great deal of descriptive world-building. It is as if someone had a homework assignment that said, “create a not-quite-human society that lives alongside the current human one” and proceeded to describe social, physical and economic structure. In fact, it isn’t until Chapter Four, or the 10% mark, that the action and dialogue of the book actually begins. I couldn’t help but contrast that with Lizard Music, which even though similarly began with a first-person young person narrating, there were phone calls, goodbyes, small adventures, and narrations of actions that broke into the thoughts that oriented the reader to time and place. On the more positive side, Dwergish has a more modern feel about it, with greater care toward avoiding potentially socially confrontational topics.
“It’s not as though I sneaked out of my ho use in the middle of the night, stole some coins, and left my family a pathetic note. It wasn’t like that at all. It was less dramatic. I told my mother that I couldn’t stand living in the quaint little hidden village anymore, and wanted to give the outside world a try. She said she understood” (13%)
Narrative voice was actually quite challenging, because so much of it was passive. That first conversation at 10% isn’t followed until another at 14%, and that just doesn’t fly in a young adult book. Perhaps if you are writing Island of the Blue Dolphins, but not when you are a Dwerg girl leaving home to explore a human town.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the ‘dwerg’ in the room. I’m almost certain it is supposed to be a fantasy-version of ‘dwarf,’ with the emphasis on mining gold, and “little men, short ugly guys with beards, big heads, and little pig eyes.” There’s a big explanation for ‘Dwerg’ in the story, about it being a Dutch word and such, and the relationship with the English, but I couldn’t help wondering, ‘why?’ and that’s not a story question that often occurs to me. What is this story trying to accomplish? Preserve some New England mythology? Introduce it? Why have the ‘dwerg’ device at all, except to have someone who had gold and was moderately alienated from modern culture? The alienation is occasionally played for laughs, but really, because the dwerg girls could go to school, Molly fits in relatively easily. In fact, she’s so competent at everything she tries that I’d easily take her for an eighteen-year-old age group. About the only magical thing that Molly does do is talk to ghosts.
There is a lot of history in here about Kingston, New York, the general area, the Natives who were there and then the settlers that came. Once the ghosts are introduced (at 25%), even more history gets brought in. Again, had more of it been done through dialogue or action, perhaps it would have been more entertaining. As it was, it looked like paragraphs were lifted off encyclopedia articles.
I’ve hesitated for a long time in writing this review. I tend to feel terribly guilty when I don’t like a book that I was excited to read, particularly when it’s an advance review copy. But in this case, I’d say don’t let it write you off Pinkwater entirely. I happened to enjoy the very curiously weird Lizard Music.