Review: Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye

Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Title: Witherwood Reform School
Author: Obert Skye, Keith Thompson (Illustrations)
Genre: middle grade, fantasy
Series: Witherwood #1
Pages: 240
Published: Expected March 3, 2015
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5

After a slight misunderstanding involving a horrible governess, oatmeal, and a jar of tadpoles, siblings Tobias and Charlotte Eggars find themselves abandoned by their father at the gates of a creepy reform school. Evil mysteries are afoot at Witherwood, where the grounds are patrolled by vicious creatures after dark and kids are locked in their rooms. Charlotte and Tobias soon realize that they are in terrible danger—especially because the head of Witherwood has perfected the art of mind control.

If only their amnesiac father would recover and remember that he has two missing children. If only Tobias and Charlotte could solve the dark mystery and free the kids at Witherwood—and ultimately save themselves.

Witherwood Reform School owes a lot to A Series of Unfortunate Events and that's my biggest problem with it. There's a fourth wall breaking narrator. A pair of siblings, one of whom is an inventor, dropped off with evil caretakers because of their dead/missing parents. A mystery, a generally morbid atmosphere, a false hope, and a "to be continued" ending. I just found it too familiar.

Tobias and Charlotte are a lot more mischievous than the Baudelaire children would ever dream of. I really wanted to like the gravy prank, but the writing made it gross and mean instead of funny. After the prank goes awry, their father drops the kids off at a nearby reform school, to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, he then immediately drives off a cliff, as you do.

Abandoned at the school, the kids are immediately thrust into the mystery, as they flee monsters guarding the grounds, find a hidden boy who's not all there, and struggle to escape. The mystery is fine, probably the best part. The school has some fun touches, but I didn't see enough time devoted to them.

The illustrations are pretty. They have an old school feel that make me think of the 90s and the books I read as a pre-teen. I really liked the full page portraits of Tobias and Char, it helped me picture them and fit with the book. There are a lot of flourishes and page decorations that made the book feel grand. While I don't like how the guardians were depicted, the illustrations were my favorite part.

My big problem with this book is the end. The plot was light, but the utter lack of a conclusion ruined it. If even one of the mysteries was solved, it would have been a lot more satisfying and made me want to read a sequel. Instead, I think I'll go read The Bad Beginning again instead.

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