The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton and published in 2011 by Puffin Books. Illustrated by Brett Hellquist.
So, this book has great reviews. On Amazon, it maintains five stars. On Goodreads, four. The truth is, I want to give it at least four stars, but I just don’t think I can. While Mount Majestic is creative, lighthearted, playful (with language and story), and fun, it is also–oh, I so hate to say it–half-baked.
At first, I thought I was going to absolutely love this book. The writing immediately struck me as clean and immensely imaginative. Almost every page has something to love. In fact, the best part of Mount Majestic is the creativity. You really want to fall into a world of sleeping giants and poisonous tortises and pepper on sweet potato soup. And even the smaller creative flourishes are great. However, I quickly started feeling like what I was reading was not a published book, but an earlier draft. Every page felt unpolished, like it was full of great ideas but just hadn’t reached its potential yet. I wanted so badly for an editor to have hit the copy hard and for Trafton to have re-written weak dialogue, hashed out places and characters, and thought harder about the lay of the land.
Let me be specific about four things. First, I found her conceptualization of the size of things (and space) to be confusing and contrary. In order to introduce a person to a giant and to new creatures, and to a fictional place, the author has to have a very clear idea herself of the exact size of those things and the layout of the land. I was super confused by how fast people would get up and down a mountain or get from town to town. If we had a better sense of how small the island was, at the beginning, it might have been better. But on the other hand, I don’t think an island with such diversity of creature and landscape, containing a “mountain” could be as small as she needs it to be. Plus, she’s not always consistent. It might take a day to get from the forest up the mountain, but twenty minutes to run back down the other side. And the giant? One moment, I had the impression that he was as long as their world, and then the next someone was gazing at his whole face with the light of a lantern. It just didn’t make sense. A giant hair, on that scale, would be tremendously thick, let alone the size of an eye. Think about it.
Second, i didn’t think Trafton lingered on things long enough to let them develop. I know this is children’s lit, and in some ways I appreciate the quick pace. But I was often whisked away from a new character or a setting without ever really feeling I had visualized it. The pace was just too fast for me to enjoy the world or get to know the characters. (And a pet peeve of mine: she sometimes delayed telling us the way something or someone looked until much later. I hate when authors do that, because the reader has already developed their internal picture of it or them, and changing that is unpleasant and distracting.)
Third, I had the feeling while reading this that I was being fed medicine with a dose of sugar. And it’s not that I don’t think stories can have a moral, it’s just that these ones were so obvious that they distracted me. I would like to have gotten to the very end and thought later, “Oh, the shrinking guy found out how big he was!” As it was, Trafton spoon-fed it to me as the story unfolded, so that I was constantly on the look-out for the allegory. If this doesn’t bother you, you’ll find yourself with plenty to think about and discuss.
And fourth, I was not happy with the ending. I have to admit, I was warned by my ten-year-old daughter about this. She read the book first, and when I asked if she liked it, she said she didn’t, “because of the ending. You’ll see.” So although I don’t want to give anything away, here, I’ll just vaguely say that I found the ending to be wandering and forced. It wasn’t what happened at the end that I didn’t like; it was the way it was handled. (Although I think most kids between 8 and 14 would NOT appreciate WHAT happens at the end; it’s too ambiguous.) Another thing: there really were three endings, and I thought the last one was by far the best. The other two could have been discarded.
So like I already said, I really wanted to love this book. And there were definitely things I appreciated and enjoyed about it, and that you would probably, too. I wouldn’t discourage others from reading it, especially since the overall reviews are very high. But I won’t be re-reading it. It bums me out to see a story and an author with so much potential and just not enough editing.
“Of all the words that have ever been invented, that is the worst. All of the terror in the world hangs on the word might” (p42).
“I promise that I’ll let you know if there’s anything you need to worry about, and you promise me that you won’t worry until I do. Okay?” (p117).
“And as bad as a sleeping giant is, it is not the worst possibility” (p230).