I don't know what drives many of today's juvenile fiction authors to push the envelope of acceptable language and subject matter. House Arrest has a great premise, good subject matter, and well-developed characters, but makes several references along the way that made me cringe. I do so in books written for adults, too, but for a book that my fourth graders may choose to read, I cannot endorse the kind of language Holt has written.
Don't get me wrong: I understand that main character Timothy is supposed to be edgy. I understand that he's angry at the world. I get that he is lost, confused, and helpless. And in real life, perhaps, this kid would use language worse than the few references here, but why perpetuate such a standard to still more children? Why not creatively reach that edge without shocking readers.
Like I say, I like the premise and I like the style, but I didn't like the references to body parts and the crude references along the process of developing the plot contained in House Arrest. Likewise, I felt like Holt was trying to reach a page goal and drew parts of the story out further than necessary. At points, the writing felt repetitive as she tried to fill in all of the weeks of the year-long journal written by the main character.
Then, in the final pages (and I mean, in the very last pages), the author hits the reader with everything at once. It's almost as if she needed to resolve every issue at the same time, so she did it. I would have enjoyed a little more time to let things happen than to throw it all in the mix at once and then drop it in the reader's lap. Because of the manner in which she wrapped things up, she also created a whole new set of circumstances that were left unresolved. I'm OK with some of that; it's fun to tease the audience a bit - leave them with unanswered questions to ponder - but there's a little too much of that here. Which tells me there may be a sequel in the works. I hope she respects the readers enough to avoid sequel fever.
From the author's website:
Timothy is on probation. It’s a strange word—something that happens to other kids, to delinquents, not to kids like him. And yet, he is under house arrest for the next year. He must check in weekly with a probation officer and a therapist, and keep a journal for an entire year. And mostly, he has to stay out of trouble. But when he must take drastic measures to help his struggling family, staying out of trouble proves more difficult than Timothy ever thought it would be. By turns touching and funny, and always original, House Arrest is a middlegrade novel in verse about one boy’s path to redemption as he navigates life with a sick brother, a grieving mother, and one tough probation officer.