Monday, September 23, 2013

Janitors: The Curse of the Broomstaff -- Tyler Whitesides

“Have you ever fallen asleep during math class? Are you easily distracted while listening to your English teacher? Do you find yourself completely uninterested in geography? Well, it may not be your fault. The janitors at Welcher Elementary know a secret, and it's draining all the smarts out of the kids. Twelve-year-old Spencer Zumbro, with the help of his classmate Daisy ‘Gullible’ Gates, must fight with and against a secret, janitorial society that wields wizard-like powers. Who can Spencer and Daisy trust and how will they protect their school and possibly the world?”

And thus begins the Janitors series for middle grade readers. Book one, Janitors, was loads of fun, even if the description of smelly, dirty janitorial supplies was a little too realistic for me as an adult reader. I wanted to head to the restroom and wash my hands at the end of each reading session, as though those nasty toxites had slipped through the pages and into reality.

It was with much anticipation that I opened book two, Secrets of New Forest Academy.   
“Now more than ever, Spencer, Daisy, and even Dez must fight to save schools everywhere. Toxites, the small creatures that love to feed on the brain waves of students, are just the beginning of their troubles. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) is after Spencer, and the Rebels hope to sneak him to safety within the walls of an elite private school. But danger follows Spencer and his friends, testing their loyalty and trust as well as their Toxite-fighting skills. Can they hold out long enough to discover the true secret of New Forest Academy and what it means to the future of education?”

Although this new chapter started out with much promise with the addition of just enough new material to garner my interest, soon the action slowed for me and I found myself having difficulty staying interested enough to slog my way through. I did finish, but it took me way too long, and by the time I reached the end, I didn’t remember much of what had happened at the beginning, a rare occurrence for me as a reader who typically can account for hundreds of books that I’ve read when someone asks me for a recommendation or wants to discuss some fine point of the story from their point of view.

So, it was with hesitancy that I began to read Curse of the Broomstaff.

“A secret society of Janitors with wizard-like powers continue their battle, and now, the stakes are even higher. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance is after Alan Zumbro and this time they mean business—deadly business. Spencer, Daisy, and their little team of rebels must find the source of all magical Glop and destroy it before it can destroy the world as we know it. No small task with the BEM and their monster toxites at their heels. It’s a wild and dangerous ride as they follow the trail of clues all the way to the hiding place of the mysterious aurans: guardians of a secret landfill. What they discover there will change the way Spencer sees himself, not to mention the fate of the rebels.”

Every day I have students in my school library, asking me when the new book will arrive because they want to know what happens next, so I know the anticipation among middle grade readers is high.

But for me, Curse of the Broomstaff was just another episode, filled with mostly the same running joke of janitor talk that tries too hard and becomes more annoying than anything to the adult reader. Characters named silly references like Mr. Clean, sudden magical elements appearing where none were evident before, and the constant head-hopping and lack of character growth all wore me out as I tried to maintain the enthusiasm I felt at the end of book one, and support of an author I like. I miss the school setting. I miss having a single character whose story I’m interested in enough to keep me reading. The series as a whole has become tedious to me, perhaps in the same way Fablehaven became so. I’m not seeing an overriding story arc to carry the series beyond “and then this happened” status. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the author does plan to bring us back around to the initial incident as set up in book one, but for right now, I feel lost in the mire.

The copy I bought for the school library has been checked out now for over a week. This is not a good sign. My biggest readers, the kids who have been anticipating a book like this usually read a new book like this overnight—two nights at most—before bringing it back, begging to know when the next book from a series will be released. I guess I will find out soon why it took this student so long and The Curse of the Broomstaff will be into the hands of the next anxious reader, but if I were to guess, I’d say perhaps what happened to them is the same thing that happened to me. I simply got bored in the middle of the read. I was easily distracted, and I wanted to just fall asleep. I guess maybe the series has taken me right back where it started, although that’s not where we should be in what is obviously the middle of a series. 

Update: Several students have now anxiously checked out the novel since I made the original post. All of them were excited to finally have their name come up on the waiting list. None of them have brought the book back with the same enthusiasm for the next installment, a usual occurrence when a series promises more to come (like Michael Vey and Rick Riodan's The House of Hades.) Whitesides will have to really knock reader's out the park on the promise of book 4 to keep them hanging on that long.