I loved the middle-grade novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which won a Newbery Honor last year. I could see other people not loving it because it is quiet and languorously paced. But I looked at the one- and-two-star Amazon reviews and my mind exploded like a brain cell at a Bieber concert.
Look, I don’t deny that the book might not grab you instantly. At first my daughter Josie resisted it — she found the lovely cover and serious-sounding title off-putting — but she eventually picked it up and once she got into its rhythms, loved it too. And I saw my new pal Yana Rodgers of the Rutgers Project on Economics and Children just reviewed it on Amazon and gave it five stars. Since Professor Rodgers looks at children’s lit through the lens of its economics lessons, her review concludes, “Central to the main story line are important themes in economics concerning gender bias within households in the allocation of unpaid domestic work, and, closely related, the concentration of men and women in different types of occupations.” (Uh, that maybe makes the book sound seriously unfun. But it can be very funny! And I swear if you give it a chapter or two it is unboring! It’s not just a worthy read; it’s a readable read! If you know what I mean.)
After reading Yana’s review I wound up looking at the new negative reviews, out of curiosity. I assumed they’d be from kids with no patience for a book that’s not a rip-roarin’ adventure or moony paranormal. BUT NO.
One was from an adult horrified that a certain plant was in reality found in a different place from the place it was found in the novel (a fact that the author points out in an afternote — it’s called artistic license, look into it); another was from an adult upset that a character — already depicted as somewhat louche — possesses an art book (not pictured — because this is A NOVEL) about the female nude; another was from an adult appalled by the book’s feminism; another was from anÂ adult upset at a character’s clueless racism (which the book shows to be misguided — hi, Huck Finn much?); and one was from an adult horrified that the book presents evolution as fact.
ABOUT THAT LAST ONE? ESPECIALLY? PLEASE KILL ME.
“Evolution? Really?” that critique is headlined. “I know that this review will probably be met with a great deal of criticism, but I had to voice my opinion,” it continues. “According to the Bible, God’s word, the world was created in 6 days, certainly NOT billions of years as evolution states…Don’t get me wrong though. I believe it is important to learn about evolution, if for no other reason then being able to better battle against it. However, it has to do with the tone in which evolution is included… Non biased straight tell-the-facts books about Darwinism and evolution are fine. I simply do not think that evolution should be included as fact.”
I don’t even know what to say. Even if I understood the juxtaposition of the last two sentences I would not know what to say.