Friday, July 11, 2014

Alchemy - Mike Wood

Okay.  Let me begin by copying and pasting the description of this book.  According to Goodreads, Alchemy is about how, "The summer of 1984 was a golden time in America. From California, where gymnast Mary Lou Retton was winning Olympic gold, to Cape Cod, where explorer Barry Clifford was discovering pirate gold, the nation seemed obsessed with the precious metal. But for 15-year old Al, that obsession hits a little too close to home when he finds a code-filled notebook belonging to his missing father that may contain the ancient formula for turning lead to gold. Convinced that his father's sudden disappearance is connected to his secret experiments in alchemy, Al sets out to find the truth. He enlists the help of Cammie, a beautiful girl staying for the summer while her marine biologist father tracks a wayward manatee, and together they begin unraveling the mystery. But the closer they get to an answer, the closer they grow to each other, and as the end of summer draws nearer, Al wonders if they can break the code without breaking his heart."

That said...that's not really what this book is about.  Okay, there's a notebook with a code in it, and Al's father did go missing several years ago.  But that's not the real story.  The real story mainly revolves around Al's relationship (or wannabe relationship, depending) with Cammie, and the notebook and the "mystery" are pretty  much a ploy to get her to spend time with him.  That said...the summary is also a blatant lie.  Al, our narrator, is a blatant liar.  You know what I don't like?  Unreliable narrators.  They can be done incredibly well, when you know they're unreliable the whole time, and spend the entire book questioning what's real and what's not.  But when you get to the end and find out that half the plot wasn't actually plot?  No.  No.  That's not cool.  See, up until the end, I really loved Alchemy.  Okay, there were some issues.  Wood apparently doesn't know to properly punctuate when using parentheses at the end of a sentence, and also is a little shaky on how to use quotation marks on dialogue that spans more than one paragraph.  (For future reference, if the parentheses are a separate sentence, the punctuation goes inside them; if they are included in a larger sentence, the punctuation goes outside them.  Also, if your dialogue spans more than one paragraph, you put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph of dialogue, and then one final set of end quotation marks when your character stops speaking.)  Still, I enjoyed the narrative style.  There were some other aspects that put me off a bit (for example, Al's age is listed by the book as being 15, but the timeline is a little shaky sometimes so it's often hard to tell how old he is, and he has a job at one point but then it never shows up again) but I liked the overall story and the mystery and how it was all coming together.  Would I have liked some more involvement of the Hugh Manatee storyline, or the story about the guys looking for pirate gold?  Yeah.  Sure.  Definitely.  But I was still thoroughly enjoying the book, and it was looking at a four-star rating.

Then there was the end.  The end was preachy.  The end completely derailed the rest of the book.  Honestly, I think it would have been perfectly possible to end Alchemy without trying to beat me over the head with the lesson of "appreciate what you have before it's gone" and turning the entire mystery into a red herring.  I was so incredibly disappointed by how the ending dragged on and felt the need to beat me over the head with the moral lesson when the lesson should have been clear from the entire book; really, it's like War and Peace.  When I say that, I mean that in War and Peace, Tolstoy spends the entire book building up his philosophy of history, and then spends the last forty or so pages of the book telling you exactly the same thing but all in one place.  It's just not necessary, and it results in treating your reader like they are intellectually inferior and aren't smart enough to "get" the point you've been making.

So, yeah, I enjoyed the bulk of Alchemy.  But in the end, being treated like I couldn't understand the lesson of the book and being told that half the book had just been a decoy was so infuriating that it completely ruined the rest of the experience for me.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

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