Author: Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus
Publication Date: 1st June 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
The Book Ninja is unique, it’s witty and it’s intriguing and there was a lot that I loved about it. I am now sitting here trying to work out how to tackle a review, how I felt about it and what I want to say. There are a lot of elements that I adore but when it all comes together and I look at it as a whole I have mixed feelings and I can’t convincingly put my finger on why.
Frankie and Cat are best friends, have been forever, and they share everything with one another… until they don’t. Their relationship dynamic was fun, there is a lot of banter and good natured ribbing but there are an inordinate number of nicknames. I thought that was quite a quirky touch and it amused me because I am one who loves to have a long list of nicknames up my sleeve, unfortunately my children don’t agree. Not only are they best friends but they also run a Melbourne bookshop together, inherited by Cat’s husband.
It has a bookshop, what’s not to love. It is a story inhabited by book lovers of every shape, size and genre and the literary title dropping is epic. The bookish banter is non-stop from quotes to comparisons and, of course, nicknames. This is one of the elements I loved. Bookshops are my happy place and I loved the literary name dropping because I wanted to know what would be next.
The premise is actually pretty novel, (hehe) and I enjoyed it. It is something I hadn’t heard a lot about but random acts of book sharing are becoming quite popular. There are little roadside libraries popping up all over the place that offer free book swaps, movements that see the book you finish on the plane being left for someone else to come along and find and the Books on the Rail movement founded by Ali and Michelle in Melbourne (which is now spreading it’s carriages across the country). In The Book Ninja there’s a twist to the random book dropping, it’s not just to share great literature but to help tragically single Frankie Rose find a boyfriend.
The characters, now here’s where my mixed feelings come in. The characters were an endless source of entertainment, they amused me, but I just didn’t like them very much. Their behaviour throughout the book was dishonest, secretive and selfish. They seemed to be connected only to their own best interests and they frustrated me no end.
Frankie Rose is a little lost in her life, she has had two novels published and the second one amassed some pretty nasty reviews which saw young Frankie put down the pen and walk away from her dreams, all her literary passion to be quenched by reading the never-ending supply of new material constantly arriving at the bookstore. Her long term relationship is over and she’s almost ready to get back out there but nothing she’s tried has worked. Inspiration strikes and she embarks on an experiment that sees her leaving copies of her favourite books on trains with her contact details printed in them; in the hopes that likeminded men will find them and get in touch.
All good social experiments require recording, and in this case Frankie decided to put fingers to keyboard and begin a blog, which gives us a fabulous format for the book. It’s told through a range of storytelling mediums from narrative, emails, message interaction and blog posts. The mix of mediums keeps the story fresh and the wit razor sharp. The issue is that the behaviour of the characters is less than desirable.
I read an uncorrected proof of the copy and I’m not sure what changes would have been made between my reading and the printing of the book so I’m not sure if I should even mention it, in case it’s gone, but the timeline just didn’t seem to flow the way it should. It almost seemed to me like all the different events seemed to happen on their own timeline and they didn’t always run together. I completely lost track of the narrative and one of the characters for a while and then just as I started wondering what was going on, she was back.
As I was reading I kept wondering just how much the book has in common with the lives of the authors because there are some similarities there but I think that was just me wandering off track for a while.
The writing flowed beautifully, but you do need to make timeline allowances, the prose was punchy and engaging and the basic premise was intriguing. The characters were at times painful and they’re behaviour was pretty deplorable, I wanted to like them but they just did some pretty selfish and terrible things that I couldn’t get past. The secondary characters were all as quirky as they come and it was amusing trying to juggle the sheer volume of quirky in one, relatively small, group of people. The behaviour wasn’t bad enough that any of them were irredeemable but I couldn’t be in their corner cheering them on for their happy ever after.
Another of the elements I loved is the organ donor plotline that explores the need for more publicity so that more people will become organ donors and potentially save lives. What I really loved about it was the way it was done. Graphic imagery, with literary ties, that will jump up and down to get your attention and remind you of the importance of organ donation.
The Book Ninja is a story that I would recommend, I did enjoy it; just be aware that the characters behave pretty badly. It’s a light-hearted read that’s good for a giggle; with a splash of romance, a dash of banter and a bucketload of bookishness.
The Book Ninja is book #25 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.