THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A REISSUE
I really appreciate it when people take chances, to try something new or different, and I really appreciate author Avi (and his publishers) for going out on a limb and producing a book that will challenge its targeted reading audience. This book, “Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?” is written completely as dialog only. No “he said” “she said”. No narrative description of the characters or the locations. And Avi doesn’t do this just be different. He does this because it is completely in line with the major object of his book.
Set in 1945, Frankie Wattleson is an extreme fan of radio shows. Whether at school, or hanging out with his best friend, he turns everything in to a radio show, even telling his friend how to respond, and giving himself a more radio-show type of name (“Chet Barker”). Frankie’s uncle has returned from the war, wounded and withdrawn. Frankie’s teacher gets word that her fiancée was killed in action. Frankie decides he needs to get Miss Gomez (his teacher) and Tom (his uncle) together. Meanwhile, Frankie’s parents have rented out a room in the house to bring in extra income. Frankie is sure that the boarder is actually an evil scientist and continually sneaks in to look for proof. Frankie’s grades suffer because of his inability to focus on schoolwork when he instead is always thinking about radio shows.
This idea for a story is really fun and it’s a great way to introduce an impressionable audience to the wonderful world of radio shows (which can be much more dynamic than the biggest blockbuster movie). The story is nicely developed, though the WWII themes seem to ‘date’ this book (even though it wasn’t written then … perhaps this speaks well to Avi’s ability to capture the feeling of an era extremely well.
And so it is perfectly in line with the story and the era and the characters that Avi has written this book entirely in dialog as if it were a radio play. But it’s also extremely challenging. It makes the reader work, rather unnecessarily. Do we need to have to pause or stop our reading to identify who is speaking or where we are? Most of the time, Avi makes this abundantly clear through the source of the dialog and I was quite impressed with his ability to do so. But those few times when it wasn’t clear, it simply became frustrating.
A few times I thought it might be fun to record this book as a radio play — he even calls his chapters “episodes” — but while the book is written entirely in dialog, that does NOT mean it is written as a radio script. A radio script would identify the name of the speaker and include the one thing that is really crucial to radio and missing from a novelized version of radio … sound effects. The wonderful world of radio is filled with sound that helps create atmosphere and set the scene. A book of nothing but dialog misses this. I missed this.
As a tremendous fan of radio shows, I really appreciated this book. As a reader of YA books, I really appreciated the daring. But as a reader looking for a book to read, I found the task of reading nothing but dialog challenging when it didn’t need to be so.
Looking for a good book? Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? is a delightful novel of old-time radio shows, written entirely in dialog that may challenge the reader unnecessarily.
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Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?
publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
paperback, 176 pages