Review of the Day: Tall Tales
Tall Tales by Karen Day. Wendy Lamb Books (Random House imprint). $15.99.
"Tall Tales" isn’t flashy. It doesn’t leap off of the bookshelf and start screaming about how necessary it is for you to buy buy buy. There are no sparkles, flashy lights, or marauding dragons in evidence. It’s slow. Soft. A book manages to tell its tale in a supremely careful fashion. I’ll level with you here: It’s good but it doesn’t stick in your brain the way a gaudy Clique novel might. If you’re looking for fireworks and lightshows, direct your attention elsewhere pronto. If, instead, you want a well-written title about friends, lies, and family secrets "Tall Tales" is a decent way to go. A good book.
Meg wants a friend. Badly. Desperately, you might say. When she and her family move to Lake Haven, Indiana it isn’t the first move Meg’s had to put up with. It’s not even the second, third, or fourth. With a father that continually claims to have stopped drinking, Meg and her siblings learned long ago that having friends meant keeping them as far away from their home life as possible. Meg’s gone one step further, though. She’s come up with elaborate lies to fill in the unassuming or embarrassing gaps in her life. When she begins to grow close to a girl in her class by the name of Grace, it’s like she’s found her other half. But how long will Meg be able to cover for the fact that much of what she’s been telling Grace is a lie? Soon enough she could learn that sometimes the most outrageous tales you come up with are the ones you tell to yourself.
It takes a while to figure out that Meg’s a liar. When you first hear her spout off a whopper about her dad being a doctor from Tasmania, you go for it. I mean, it wasn’t so crazy a lie that I didn’t believe it myself. So convincing was the lie, in fact, that I thought that Chapter One was narrated by one girl and Chapter Two by another. I actually had to flip back and forth for a while to better determine what was going on. So maybe a little clarification would have helped the writing at the start. For example, the first time we meet Meg’s little sister Abby she isn’t necessarily introduced. It’s one of those narrative techniques where a character just gradually comes into focus as the story continues. The fact that this book acknowledges the truly slow nature of change can either be seen as the story’s strength or weakness. Nothing here happens too quickly. Make of that what you will.
With the veritable plethora of broken families in children’s literature, it’s funny that I can’t come up with another children’s title containing an alcoholic family member to compare to this book. I don’t really have to, of course. Day has a good handle on the situation and presents it accurately here. You can watch the charm of the alcoholic and his heartfelt apologies post-abuse. Every antagonist should display multiple sides if a children’s book is going to carry any weight at all. It’s all the more effective, then, to have the father dancing giddily with the mom one moment and then shaking the daughter violently for dropping some hamburgers the next. The writing is nice as well. Certain descriptions will sometimes catch the eye unawares. Sentences like, "Her shoulders fill her sweaters until there doesn’t seem to be one millimeter of space left."
By the way, as a former resident of Kalamazoo I was amused that the town was (in a sense) one of the final straws in finally deciding to try to get away from the dad in this story. All that aside, "Tall Tales" isn’t necessarily forgettable, but it does demand a bit of hand selling and word-of-mouth. Consider it subdued and supremely readable.
Notes on the Cover: Well, shoot. I have no idea with this one. I like the mix of photography and what appears to be hand-drawn art. I guess we have a certain Martin O’Neill to thank for that. Plus, this isn’t one of those cases where the artist didn’t take the time to read the book. Here we can see an oddly cheery view of the father’s yellow boots and the pins of the bowling alley where the mom and kids go when he’s being nasty. I appreciate the lack of Kids Lying On the Grass. And I like that the picture is black and white rather than sepia-toned. Plus the girls appear to be the right age AND not models. For my tastes, the patterns are a bit too countrified, but that may just work to the book’s advantage. We’re going to slot this one into the Okey-Dokey category here. And, I should note, the lack of flash certainly serves the novel very well. An honest representation of the story inside.
First Line: “I want to make a friend.”
Other Blog Reviews of This Title: Slayground
- Author interview with Mitali Perkins
- Author interview with Little Willow
- Author homepage
- Authorial Class of 2k7 page
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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