Adventures of a Dwergish Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

Read April 2020
Recommended for fans of New England, YA
 ★     ★    

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.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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10 Responses to Adventures of a Dwergish Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

  1. I was advised when just starting out to never read a single review, or to regard all reviews, positive and negative, as having nothing to do with one’s work as a writer. Good advice. I refer to a period when reviews could only be found in publications, with professional editors, so cranks were ruled out. Now any amateur can post a review online, which means it’s an even better idea to ignore them all. And certainly this review does not bother me…but I am a seasoned professional writer, with 50 years of career behind me. If I were a lot newer and more vulnerable, the approach of this reviewer, (with the best of intentions…I understand), might have been enough to stop me from ever trying to write anything ever again…and it would have been your responsibility, thebookgator. Think about this in future.

  2. thebookgator says:

    Did you drop by and read my review for Lizard Music? I happened to enjoy it quite a bit. I’d suggest sticking with the advice you receive about reviews and avoid reading them, especially if they inspire this result. This is my perspective as a modern reader. I think Adventures needs more work to be something I would be interested in giving to young adults and to be something that I would be sure they would love. I do feel it is something that would easily lose the attention span of the average younger reader. I feel sad reading your remark, because, no, your reaction is not my responsibility. Your reaction is your own. That’s how spheres of control work. You should own that.

    • Daniel Pinkwater says:

      A good friend who was a distinguished critic only reviewed work he liked. If he didn’t like something he didn’t write about it. I liked that policy. I never had any intention to be a reviewer, but I got to be a commentator on a radio network, and to oblige a colleague I took something on, and wound up doing reviews before a very large audience for quite a few years. I was always able to find books I liked. And…the mother, no less, of a radio colleague ran the book review section of an important newspaper, and I found myself doing reviews in print. I wrote a negative one. The way things worked, the paper assigned the book. On the radio job I got to choose. I could have declined the assignment. Instead I gave the author a bit of a spanking, thought I was being witty. I got ambushed in the columns of that very newspaper by friends of the author, who savaged the next thing I published, and I absolutely had it coming. You see, because I understand the process, because I’ve observed editorial disasters, the faithfulness of unpublished authors who keep trying and trying, and sometimes the abuse and veiled mockery they get subjected to….and because I’ve lived a life around the arts and have seen so many times some wonderful work coming from artists whose beginnings may have been completely unpromising, and that includes me, I was always a little protective of the writer. You’re not. You don’t have to be. I note that you don’t ask what about your approach struck me as a little bit toxic. Just as well. It’s not for me to instruct you. You are in the perfect sphere of control.

      • lethe says:

        A good friend who was a distinguished critic only reviewed work he liked. If he didn’t like something he didn’t write about it. I liked that policy.

        I don’t trust (amateur) reviewers who like every book they review. It makes me wonder whether their reviews are genuine, or whether they feel obliged towards the author / are friends with the author / don’t want to risk not receiving free copies anymore, etc.

        If I check out a reviewer, I look for the books they didn’t like (especially the ones everyone else seems to love) to see if we agree on those. I use it as a litmus test.

        Reviews by non-professional reviewers are not intended for the author, but for fellow readers, so heeding the advice you were given would actually be a good idea.

  3. Daniel Pinkwater says:

    I take your point, lethe. I just googled my way into the review, got a whiff of something I didn’t like, and posted a reply, never considering the amateur vs. professional question. Thus my comments, coming perforce from a professional point of view are inappropriate here. I beg your pardon, and those of your fellow readers. Continue having fun.

  4. thebookgator says:

    So to sum up, you come to my site looking for a review of your book, see that it isn’t “favorable,” decide to read regardless, and then choose to castigate me. You construct a strawman of a “new author” to disguise your own feelings, refuse to acknowledge responsibility for your reaction, go on to describe the reviewer as toxic and thoughtless. You then gaslight everyone reading this by claiming “it’s not for me to instruct you.” Then, you further insult all professional reviewers by implying any positive reviews they give are the result of a pay-to-play relationship. Wow. Just wow. Talk about toxic. I think I’ll be contacting Netgalley and Tachyon Publications.

  5. BrokenTune says:

    Excellent review and I loved reading what aspects lessened your enjoyment of the book.

  6. Stephen Fisher says:

    Mr Pinkwater, I suggest you step away from your cosseted existence and enter the world where the sun doesn’t rise with you. You are a sad figure if you can’t take a bit of criticism, and lash out in response. The greater than thou man-splaining in your responses above is uncalled for and rude. The world has seen quite enough of that behavior late. I’ve found that if one listens to both the good and the bad, it’s often highly educational. Give it a try. Alternatively take your own advice: If you don’t have something nice to say move on.

    PS: The only difference I’ve found between and amateur critic and an professional is one reads for joy, the other to get paid (and too often to feel self-important). Carol is one of the best “amateur” critics you will read. And above all honest. Ignore the troll. Keep the reviews coming Carol.

    • thebookgator says:

      Stephen, so kind of you. I appreciate your compliment. I think in this time of stress, it is important to be clear about our own mental health and lines of responsibility. This one is not mine.

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