Fans of Lemony Snicket's wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events won't be surprised to find that in the sixth installment the three Baudelaire orphans' new home proves to be something of a mixed bag. As our ever sad but helpful narrator states, "Although 'a mixed bag' sometimes refers to a plastic bag that has been stirred in a bowl, more often it is used to describe a situation that has both good parts and bad parts. An afternoon at the movie theater, for instance, would be a mixed bag if your favorite movie were showing, but if you had to eat gravel instead of popcorn. A trip to the zoo would be a very mixed bag if the weather were beautiful, but all of the man-and woman-eating lions were running around loose." And so it is for the bad-luck Baudelaires. Their fancy new 71-bedroom home on 667 Dark Avenue is inhabited by Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor (the city's sixth most important financial advisor), and her kindly husband, Jerome, who doesn't like to argue. Esmé is obsessed by the trends du jour (orphans are "in"), and because elevators are "out," Sunny, Violet, and Klaus have to trudge up 66 flights of stairs to reach the Squalors' penthouse apartment. (Other unfortunate trends include pinstripe suits, aqueous martinis--water with a faint olive-y taste--parsley soda, and ocean decorations.)
As the book begins, the Baudelaires are not only frightened in anticipation of their next (inevitable) encounter with the evil, moneygrubbing Count Olaf but they are also mourning the disappearance of their dear new friends from The Austere Academy, the Quagmires. It doesn't take long for Olaf to show up in another of his horrific disguises... but if he is on Dark Avenue, what has he done with the Quagmires? Once again, the resourceful orphans use their unique talents (Violet's inventions, Klaus's research skills, and the infant Sunny's strong teeth) in a fruitless attempt to escape from terrible tragedy. Is there a gleam of hope for the orphans and their new friends? Most certainly not. The only thing we can really count on are more gloriously gloomy adventures in the seventh book, The Vile Village. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-The resourceful, likable, but extremely unlucky orphans Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny continue to flee from the clutches of the fortune-hunting, disguise-wearing Count Olaf. Also, they need to discover the whereabouts of their kidnapped friends, Duncan and Isadora Quagmire, based on the puzzling clue "V.F.D." In Elevator, the three Baudelaires go to live in the penthouse of the trend-following Jerome and Esme Squalor, who adopt the children because orphans are "in." Despite the Baudelaires' resourcefulness, both Olaf and the Quagmires elude the grasp of the authorities due to the obtuseness of adults who, until it is too late, deny that terrible things can happen. In Village, the Baudelaires travel to V.F.D., a village that adopts the orphans based on the aphorism, "it takes a village to raise a child." They uncover the whereabouts of the Quagmires, but, as in the earlier books, they find neither respite nor peace from Count Olaf's machinations. Despite Snicket's artful turning of cliches on their well-worn heads, Elevator sometimes belabors the fallacy of fads at the expense of plot. Nonetheless, the satiric treatment of adults' insistence upon decorum at the expense of truth is simultaneously satisfying and unsettling, as are the deft slams at slant journalism in Village. Arch literary allusions enhance the stories for readers on different levels. Despite Snicket's perpetual caveats to "put this book down and pick up another one," the Baudelaires are dynamic characters who inspire loyalty to the inevitable end of the series.
Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA
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