I’ve been thinking about how I rate books on Goodreads. I feel that I should almost create a rubric to make it fair because right now my system is “whim-of-the-moment.” I enjoyed this book a lot and feel like it deserves a 5, but I’m holding back on it because it was also a children’s book and could have been more. Did it need to be more? I’m unsure. A rubric would help me feel consistent about how I rate the books I read.
It's also possible I'm overthinking this.
What would your criteria be for rating a book, if you defined it? What does a book need to grab you? How do you even decide which books to give a go and which a pass? Would you create a rubric or hold that info in your head?
The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
It’s jarring to realize your parents are flawed, normal human beings. The idea that they have identities outside of yourself is like looking at them in a funhouse mirror, with all of their unexpected interests, likes and dislikes, and unexpected friends.
The Strangers takes this idea to an intriguing extreme when three siblings learn of the disappearance of three children with their exact first names and then their mother disappears. Finding out about an entire different aspect of their mom changes how each of them sees the entire world.
The book shifts between the perspectives of the three children, reflecting how the age of each child impacts their ability to process and notice things, without putting any of those experiences down. Complicating the plot in an interesting and believable way is the fact that they don’t all know the same things and don’t always share everything they know with each other.
Centered on their house, family is the heart of this novel. While they begin almost wary of outsiders, they need to expand out of their circle of safety and learn how to trust the right strangers and fight for their family.
The book is clearly written for children, in the way the first Harry Potter book is simple, but intriguing. Unlike that book, this is less about world-building—although this world does have its own rules—and more about how the characters adapt to some strange situations. There’s nothing earthshattering in this book, but it was a fun ride and my only regret is the next in the series won’t be out for a while yet.
Extracurricular Reading and Watching
At one point in the story, the children go somewhat undercover, so I wanted to share this video on spy disguises. As a teenager I liked to put together outfits from completely different aesthetics (I tried for punk, preppy and outdoorsy with mixed success) to see if I could pull them each off, particularly enjoying the surprised “wow” when an event called for glitz and glamour and I cleaned up nicely. I find it fascinating how the way you style and dress yourself can completely change the way people react to you including subconscious/very deliberate reactions to perceived differences in class and socioeconomic status.
The family in this story is so insular and lacking in trust with anyone outside its bubble. They had me thinking of the “stranger danger” concerns of my youth and some of the backlash that’s got since then. There was handwringing over whether children thought strangers looked like No-heart from the Care Bears and weren’t nearly concerned enough about normal-seeming humans. This current advice seems more concerned with children believing all strangers are potential threats—to the point where they might not ask someone for help when they need it. The story complicates this by having strangers that look like people the children know. I can see parents reading this story with their kids and having an interesting conversation with them about how to tell who’s trustworthy. As a non-parent, that sounds terrifying. Even as an adult that can be hard to figure out, I can’t quite imagine what I’ll tell my hypothetical future children.
This book involves the kind of codebreaking that sounds infinitely cooler than the invisible ink projects I tried to do with lemon water as a kid. I’m also highly suspicious of anyone who thinks children are less literate than they were in the past. Young people use language in such creative and interesting ways, I wonder if some adults might not find it somewhat threatening. It’s easier to criticize “the youth” than try to learn a new way of expressing yourself and maybe getting it wrong sometimes. Here’s a deep-ish dive into emoji and expression.
Sabrina has read 72 books toward her goal of 75 books.