Oscar's Lion by Adam Baron and Benji Davies
|Oscar's Lion by Adam Baron and Benji Davies|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A gallimaufry of themes and ideas, that pitch us in to the deep end of the plot from page one and only really show their unifying content in the last chapters. As clever as you might ultimately deem this, it has to be said some will lose patience before seeing what the ultimate point is.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 192||Date: October 2023|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
Knowing not to give too much away about a book is one of the first things you learn on the path to being a reviewer. The issue with this short novel is that it is full of so very, very much, I am kind of duty bound to tell you what it entails to prove my point that it does, indeed, cover too much ground.
We start incredibly bluntly, with Oscar hoping to have his mother – or father, but mother is more likely – read him his very favourite book a couple of times before he has to be ready for school. But when he enters his parents' bedroom, all he sees is a mahoosive male lion on their bed, looking sheepish, and admitting that he won't be hungry for another two days. But there are benefits to having a lion around – it can be shown as an unspoken threat to the bully that ruined a birthday party for Oscar the other month. And it can shapeshift, so he can take it to school and it can get him out of a problem. And it's wonderful to have around the house – not limiting his biscuit intake, being much more lax about the rules, and so on. OK, it can't work a dimmer switch but it can give Oscar a wonderful time.
And just when we get used to the fact this lion is a replacement for the parents, and potentially a more child-savvy, more attentive, less stuck-with-one's-head-in-their-work parent, the whole book shifts hugely again. Although had we even got used to that lion? – it knows stuff, does stuff and says stuff that are just too peculiar. So by the time it proves it can send Oscar into experiencing the world of a painting he touches, we're really out of sorts. The sudden start, the unpredictable and illogical lion character, and now this – we're skating on thin ice, with a non-matching pair of skates, both on the wrong foot.
And then the lion proves it is there for a different reason entirely, too, for when it turns into a goldfinch it adds a whole other layer of meaning on to things, and I really did have to wonder if this would ever work, and in any compelling way. For I was well aware this was an established author, and therefore someone one should be able to trust in such matters, but I was also definitely of the opinion that had I had no obligation to finish this for this write-up, I could well have ditched it. Certainly as an adult, the fact the lion can (with the help of reading glasses) use and read a book, fetch frozen meals out the freezer and know the recipe for pancake batter, is all a bit too much. And then for the book to do this, and then throw us all into a painting, and then offer this as a potential theme?
For once I didn't find it too easy to guess what a young audience would think of this. Yes, being temporarily parentless is always on a youngster's wish-list, and the lion is a cool replacement. But again, is he? His seize-the-day, make-the-most-of-it ethos doesn't prioritise what a youngster would. And I still think the book at fault for allowing the chance of someone to be too bewildered, as I was, and not get to the end. After all, the slow trundle uphill at the start of a rollercoaster can only be there because we know and see what is to follow. A trundle like this, on such unstable, patchwork ground, wasn't my kind of thing. And for all the merits to be had by the emotional ending, the intelligent ending we'd seen so many signposts for it made no sense – I can't guarantee how much it will be other peoples' thing either. Something built from the six potential themes I didn't mention alone might well be, but not this many in combination.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
This is not to be mistaken for Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon, which is just utterly blunt in comparison, and truly is one of those etch-in-gold-and-send-to-the-stars classics.
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