I must be a masochist. I've read a whole bunch of kids' books, and I've liked scarcely any of them; even the good ones (like Gaiman's Coraline and the fourth Potter book) seem insubstantial. And yet, here I am, having just finished another children's book, Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning .
The author warns at the beginning of the book that it's not a pleasant story with a happy ending, and the title and series name ("A Series of Unfortunate Events") might give the same hint to those who are paying attention. The weird thing is, he's not kidding. I assumed they'd be unhappy in a watered-down kiddish way, but they're actually just overtly bleak.
The book deals with the three Baudelaire children, who become the Baudelaire orphans inside of the first ten pages, when their house burns down, killing their parents in the conflagaration (and, most horribly, destroying their library), whereupon they are sent to live with their evil Count Olaf, who abuses them most frightfully. It's all done very cheekily and breezily, but I still have a hard time believing that this is a story which you'd want to give an eight year old to read.
I liked the style of the book -- Mr. Snicket has a decided narratorial voice, which intrudes frequently to amusing effect -- and the plot was fine (albeit depressing) enough; and because it's so quick to read, I'll probably end up reading the sequels before I get to some of the more brick-like entries on my bookshelf. Still and all, I can't help but think that -- like every kids' book -- The Bad Beginning was a bit insubstantial.