Book Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour?

WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOURWho Could That Be at This Hour?, the first book in Lemony Snicket’s four-part All the Wrong Questions series which acts as the prequel for the A Series of Unfortunate Events series. Published 2012 by Little, Brown and Company and illustrated by Seth.

Normally, I would wait until I had read all the books in a series before reviewing, but since the last books aren’t yet published, I figured I would slot All the Wrong Questions and A Series of Unfortunate Events for later in my TBR. Then, I realized I didn’t want to wait to review it, altogether. So, here it is. Just the first book.

It wasn’t on the list of Best Books, but was something I bought for my kids based on general bookstore and library recommendations. It didn’t go well. Although a short read, the kids were a combination of confused and bored. But I wasn’t confused or bored, so once they wrapped it up–between me and Kevin–I picked it back up to give it a more grown-up read. And, as I suspected, I loved it.

Why the rift, then? At first, I thought Snicket had just really missed the mark, by writing an adult book and calling it middle grades because of the length of book and age of the main character. But then I noticed something somewhere on the internet and I thought I was way over-thinking this. It’s a YA book. Which means, it would be normal for my kids to find it over-their-heads and dull, and normal for me to like it even so. But then, I returned to the book and realized I wasn’t over-thinking it after all. Sorry, Snicket, but it looks like a kids’ book. The illustrations and cover, the large writing and giant margins, the cutesy back cover copy. In fact, all Snicket’s stuff hits me that way. Which is why, maybe, there is a sort of tension about the Unfortunate Events series. You want to hand them to an eight-year-old, but then you really don’t. You want to tell a teen they might enjoy it, but then you’re afraid they might get made fun of.

The truth is, the writing is clever, subtle, and high on the vocabulary scale. It’s also fast-paced, plot-driven, and–subject-wise–kid-friendly. And underneath it all, it has this sort of young spirit-old soul thing going on. The time and place, in fact the general tone, makes more sense the older you are. But it’s meant to relate to younger people. It feels like he could have combined all four into one book (especially since the ending is almost too cliff-hanger for its own good), made the type smaller, and beefed up the cover. I don’t know what to conclude here. I just know the series has some identity issues.

But we’re back to this: it’s good and it’s enjoyable. I want to know whodunnit. I am ready to read the next one. I love the imagination, here. I love the setting, the tone, the characters, Snicket’s playful use of language. Yes, yes, yes, I would recommend it, but not for young kids and not if you will be offended by the simplicity and the youthfulness behind it. In fact, I really recommend it. My kids? Not yet.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour?

  1. Totally agree. I like them myself but also couldn’t quite figure out who they’re for. I think they are probably for 10-12-year-olds. They are marketed wrong, but they are short to sell more books in the series.

    Have you read the Sisters Grimm? I know your daughter has. Those are so clever. Once I start one I can’t put it down and I am so impressed with the author’s ability to weave the characters into a very cohesive narrative.

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