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The Night Children Hardcover – September 30, 2008
From School Library Journal
Grade 4–7—Jule's parents have been missing for 10 years and, most recently, the girl's aunt has disappeared. Then Jule finds herself left behind after the MegaMall closes for the day. She is absorbed into one of the competing tribes of children who live there, scavenging for their subsistence needs. Jule soon learns that virtually all of their parents have disappeared. As the plot unfolds, readers are introduced to the mastermind of the mall. A man whose face was so disfigured by his peers as a child that he keeps it hidden, he has pledged revenge on all children. This futuristic book has a great premise, but fails in its execution. The characters are two-dimensional, with the villain drawn as almost a cartoon caricature. The repetition of "Ohhh, nooooooo," although intended to reveal the shallow, controlled thoughts of adults in custody, instead comes off as tedious and uninspired. The rotation of character perspectives through the different chapters is difficult to follow. This book cannot hold a candle to Jeanne DuPrau's "Books of Ember" (Random) or Anthony Horowitz's "The Gatekeepers" series (Scholastic).—Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Reed, an Alex Award winner for Thinner than Thou (2006), now comes with her first novel for young readers. Various groups of kids who have been abandoned by their parents live on the fringes of the gigantic Megamall, owned by the mysterious billionaire Amos Zozz. What starts out as a turf war between two such gangs escalates into much more, as the kids uncover what might have really happened to their parents—and what the clearly insane Zozz has in store for them. The kids in this thriller have some solid dimension, but the adults almost none. (Zozz has exactly two character traits: an insatiable lust for power and an insatiable hatred for children, making him an ideal villain). The condemnation of greedy corporations might not quite hit its mark, and by the end, the premise becomes too preposterous to take seriously, but readers will get caught up by the fast pace and plucky group of kids sticking it to the Man. The ending satisfies and also leaves things ripe for a sequel. Grades 4-7. --Ian Chipman
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Opposing what Lance stands for is the main villain, Amos Zozz, a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and Darth Vader, and equally as sinister. Isabella, his daughter, is also a powerful character and represents Zozzco and its reclusive founder to a "T." Between them, they wreak havoc on Castertown through their giant Megamall.
Caught in the middle are the Night Children, who rise above their personal tragedies to make a difference. They include the main characters, Jule and Tick, as well as others like Mag and Doakie, whom the author fleshes out very well. They show surprising unity when the chips are down and create a microcosm that most adults would do well to imitate.
With all the mysterious disappearances and other strange happenings at the Megamall, I wondered why an investigative reporter hadn't snooped around, but then this is a children's novel and some complexities are best left alone. Plus the fact that the people of Castertown were being drugged, as well as being paid very high wages, helps one to understand their greedy complacency. The novel's language is target age appropriate and its plot is well developed. I look forward to a sequel. Fr. Dennis
Jule Devereaux is in trouble. When she was young, her parents helped design the Castertown Mega Mall, and then they mysteriously disappeared. Ten years later, after a fight with her Aunt Christie over a cell phone, Jule wakes up and finds that this aunt, who had raised her after her parents disappeared, had also now disappeared. Now that school is presently on hiatus, she has decided to go to the Castertown Mega Mall, and through circumstances she finds herself locked in.
Finding herself not going anywhere, Jule decides to go to sleep on the Mega Mall's indoor Ferris Wheel when she realizes she isn’t alone. She's being stalked by the homeless, and rogue child gang, the Dingos, which are led by the less-than-bright Burt Arno. The Dingos are one of a bunch of child gangs that inhabit the far reaches of the mall. Unfortunately she's caught, and Arno has the less-than-bright idea to drag Jule to the Dark Hall, a place in the mall where all the gangs are afraid to go. Arno wishes to take her to this Dark Hall and offer Jule up as a sacrifice to the Almighty Oz, er, Amos Zozz, owner, creator, builder, and insane tyrannical boss of the Mega Mall. On the way to being dragged to the feared Dark Hall though Jule is rescued by Arno’s antagonist Tick Stiles and his Castertown Crazies crew.
Unfortunately Jule gets lost in the scuffle, but she is ultimately rescued by the shadowy Lance the Loner, who knows the mall as nobody else does. And through Lance she finds herself teaming up with Tick but also with the redheaded Mags, who has been unceremoniously booted from Arnos' Dingos after being blamed for losing Jule.
Meanwhile the story keeps cutting to the psychotic and megalomaniacal Amos Zozz, who was horribly abused, and scarred, as a young boy, and has now become obsessed with running the world through his Megamalls. These malls which Zozz would have being under continuous construction and renovation. This Zozz will do anything to further his aims, including sacrificing his own family, a family he has nothing but contempt for.
All-in-all, despite its heavy-handed lifting from "The Wizard Of Oz", then current events, and her own social commentary, this is a fairly readable dystopian adventure novel. However, "The Night Children" is a novel that should have been the basis of a series of novels set in this mall, but it is not to be, especially since the author passed in 2017. But if author Kit Reed HAD turned this novel into a series, it could only have ended up being a much better novel, and this is because the novel completely falls apart in its last third. It does this because of several major problems. The first of these is that the ending is both over-the-top nonsense, and a complete let down. There is much build-up but Reed lets her own cleverness destroy everything that has come before as the novel ends in so much sound and fury signifying, and accomplishing, nothing. This is because after all is said and done, Reed still manages to give "The Night Children" a non-ending ending, as the whole purpose as what happened to those that Jule loves..
Another thing is the characterizations. Zozz is your typical cartoonish raving madman who runs secret labs, has dungeons, kidnaps citizens, runs a cult, invents cartoonish mechanisms, and is barking mad. And there's Jule, who is a passive/aggressive, whining, impulsive, and obnoxious, young woman. Also, she's lost all of her family, but acts as if she's no more bothered by this than if she had lost a strayed sock. The rest of the novel's characters are no better, as all are nothing more than clichés and stereotypes.
The third thing is that the plot continuously slides downwards until it occupies the same category as a bad Saturday morning cartoon, only this isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon, it's supposed to be a serious satire for young adults.
And there are other minor problems, including the fact that despite its shortness, "The Night Children" seems rather padded, while still being a bit thread-bare. A lot is tossed into this novel, but nothing is ever properly developed, as the novel has the feel of a first draft waiting to be properly polished for publication. The grade "B" movie "The Chopping Mall" seems marvelously more developed than this juvenile cautionary tale.
Reed has written so much other material that much more memorable, and all it in the short form. Go read some of those instead, as she seems a better short form writer than a novelist. And this coming from a guy who likes these types of oddball stories.
For this site I have read and reviewed these other books of possible interest:
Abduction by Rodman Philbrick & Lynn Harnett.
Cave Of The Living Skeletons by Cindy Savage.
Dimension A by L. P. Davies.
The House On Hackman's Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon.
Mystery Of The Blue-Gowned Ghost by Linda Wirkner.
Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz.
Rex Cole, Jr. #2: Rex Cole Junior and the Grinning Ghost by Gordon Chapman.
A UFO Has Landed by Milton Dank & Gloria Dank.
Silent Witness by Carol Ellis.
The Window by Carol Ellis.
I'm assuming that Reed must know how to write if her other work has been so highly regarded, but nothing of that shows up here. One gets the impression that The Night Children was written working from an outline over the course of a weekend and the rough-draft manuscript somehow made it into print without an editor having ever laid eyes on it. The characters are flat and lifeless, the pacing is excruciatingly slow, and the prose makes the act of reading a laborious and even painful exercise. I was ready to put the book aside before I'd even finished the first chapter, and only my stubborn habit of finishing everything I start kept me reading to the end in the faint hope that maybe it would get better. It never did.
One of the many problems with the prose is that it's mostly telling with very little showing, long passages of narrative explanation and commentary, making everything distant and dragging. The following passage is pretty typical of the entire book:
"Lance the Loner has lived free for years. He is up against it now.
--Right now his loyalties are pulling him eight ways to Sunday but looking at Lance in his ski mask and his neat camo, you'd never know. He is very good at hiding what he feels. He learned from the best. His mother taught him every time she shook off his hand or pushed him away, beginning when he was very small. To keep his dignity, he had to pretend this didn't hurt. He was an expert even before he put on the mask.
--What he is feeling right now is anxious and a little scared, but he keeps his head high and his shoulders squared. Inside, he is shaking. Can he do this? How? What will happen to his world if he does?
--So far in his life in the MegaMall, Lance has done as told. Agreed. After all, obedience is one of the conditions of his freedom, but the forces in the Dark Hall -- his people -- are planning something unspeakable, and this is Lance's dirty secret. Like Isabella Zozz and the terrible Amos, he is responsible for everything they do. Tonight he heard them talking. Honor or no honor, loyalty or no loyalty, pledges or not, he can't let it go on.
--It's time to act.
--He will, of course, but what will become of everybody then?
--There are places Lane is not supposed to go under any circumstances, and this is one.
--There are also things Lance is pledged not to do.
--What Lance is doing now, for instance, is absolutely forbidden. It was agreed along with a lot of other things when the powerfull Zozz family let him separate from them and walk free.
--This is Lance the Loner, considering.
--Do not ask Lance what he's going to do. If he doesn't know, he won't tell you.
--If he knows, he will definitely not tell you. He won't tell you anything.
--It all depends on how this next part comes down.
--Like Lance, you will have to wait."
Now imagine having to plow through stuff like this for over 200 pages. You get the idea.
Another problem, in additional to the lack of character development, is the sheer passivity of most of the main characters. Everything is driven by the needs of the plot and the characters are just along for the ride, the worst case being the ostensible main character, Jule Deveraux. Other than complaining a lot and dragging her heels at virtually everything, Jule does _nothing_. She makes no decisions, takes no actions, risks nothing, tries nothing, ventures nothing. Nothing she says or does has even the tiniest effect on what happens. You could in fact completely remove her character from the book and it would not make any difference whatsoever. There are in fact only two characters who in any way affect things; Lance the Loner, the plot-mandated hero, and Amos Zozz, the utterly cartoonish cardboard villain. The sketchiness of the characters and the wafer-thin plot here make the worst episode of Scooby-Doo look positively Shakespearean by comparison.
This isn't a book for young readers; it's not a book for readers of any kind. I can't recommend this book for any purpose beyond acting as a doorstop or perhaps propping up a table leg that's too short. And then only if you get it for free and don't have to pay anything for it.
Note: if you want to read a really good fantasy series about tribes of feral children living in the shadows, I highly recommend The Borribles trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti.