bobquasit: (Daffy)
[personal profile] bobquasit
Outside Looking inOutside Looking in by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An odd book. James Lincoln Collier is particularly gifted at first-person narratives of teenagers that feel very real. But this book feels a bit flat. Fergy has been traveling the country with his parents and sister; his father is a thoroughly unlikeable grifter and egomaniac. His mother inexplicably goes along with this, and his little sister is an out-of-control kleptomaniac. Fergy wants a "normal" life, and when a chance comes to try to escape life on the road, he makes the obvious choice.

The thing is...unlike other Collier books, this one seems oddly flat. It's not a bad book, but everything is a bit more two-dimensional than in most other Collier books; it doesn't seem as real, and the choices mostly seem obvious. I might even say that the plot is a bit simplistic and unbelievable. It's worth a read if you like Collier, but if you're not familiar with his work, try Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 first - and try to get one of the older editions, one with the illustrations by Lorenz! After that, I'd recommend his historical books over this oddly dated and somehow lifeless novel. He's a very good writer, but this simply isn't his best work.

Update: Looking back, I think I see what the problem is with Outside Looking In. A good story needs to have some point on which the reader can connect. I suspect that may be particularly true for first-person narratives. It's not necessary for the reader to have have the exact same experiences, of course, but in some way there has to be an element with which the reader can identify.

In Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, for example, George Stable's desire for success drives him to make some reckless decisions. He gets in way over his head. We've all had that same sort of general experience.

But in Outside Looking In, there's really not much to connect to! Fergy starts out living on the road with an abusive father - a man who is SO vile and one-sided that there's no conflict at all. You'd no more consider staying with him than you'd consider staying with a rabid tiger.

That flatness of character, incidentally, also has an impact on Fergy's mother. Why does she stay with such an obviously abusive man? One who is clearly destroying their children's lives, as well as hers? It makes no sense, so she immediately becomes an unsympathetic character.

Fergy's life has nothing in common with that of most readers, I think - unless you grew up constantly on the run in a van with a gang of con men, without schooling or friends. If so, this is the book for you. But for everyone else, I think that the book will leave you cold.


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