Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire

After checking dictionary.com, I realize now the misunderstanding between the book and me. You see, I was originally intrigued by the “rogue” tooth fairy subtitle.

Here’s what I was expecting:
rogue noun- 1. a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel.

Here’s what the book presented:
rogue noun- 2. a playfully mischievous person; scamp. 3. a tramp or vagabond.

So after seeing What-the-Dickens on numerous shelves in libraries and bookstores, I finally was ready to read about a “rogue” tooth fairy. Maybe this rogue would tweak kids’ noses while they slept or swipe teeth and leave no change. Or better yet engage in underground black market sales of baby teeth, getting in over his head with the fairy mafia, risking broken knees and wings as, now remorseful, he tries to reconcile his past by going undercover for the Fairy Police Department, eventually seeking asylum in the Fairy Witness Protection Program, but as he secretly moves to the Seattle suburbs, he discovers his protection is limited as winged assailants with thick Brooklyn accents and short cigars arrive hoping to “discuss his past business practices.”

Instead we get an orphan fairy born in a tuna can who thinks a cat is his mother and his reflection is a friend. Sigh. Not what I expected.

Two stories are told. The first involves the Ormsby children, Zeke, Dinah, and toddler Rebecca and their distant cousin Gage, who’s been left to supervise the children in their parents’ place. Mr. and Mrs. Ormsby left suddenly to attend to an emergency in the middle of a horrible storm, leaving the children with no food, no power, and not much hope. This medical emergency is later revealed, but I can’t figure out why it was left secret for so long.

The second story is that of What-the-Dickens, the orphan skibberee, left to independently discover who he is and what he is and what in the world he’s supposed to do in this world. In his search for a home, and despite his immaturity and ignorance, he soon discovers others like him.

The explanation of the skibbereen is fascinating. They have sectors and divisions and roles they play in the tooth trade. There are other tribes, each with their own hidden villages, each with their own community rules and regulations. Tooth fairy mysteries are explained such as how skibbereen get change to trade for teeth and what they do with all those collected teeth anyway. Birthday wishes are also tied in.

Unfortunately, that was too little of the book for my tastes. Other than the reassurance that the Ormsby family will be okay, too little of their whole story is told, and the good parts of What-the-Dickens’ story – the community of skibbereen – were too few and far between. My guess is that kids will get lost in their questions (Why did the parents leave? Is there something going on besides a bad storm? Where did What-the-Dickens come from anyway?) and reading will not reap adequate answers.

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