Book Review: Meddling Kids; or, a discussion on harmful stereotypes and tropes

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Meddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero

Edition: Titan Publishing 2018, 442 pages

Links: Goodreads


In 1977 The Blyton Summer Detective Club unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster.

By 1990 the former detectives are haunted by strange, half-remembered events that cannot be explained by a guy in a mask. 

The time has come to get the team back together and find out what actually happened all those years ago. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world.


CONTENT WARNING: discussion of racism, lesbophobic tropes, negative treatment of mental illness, negative approach to intersex people, usage of slurs, and rape

I heavily abbreviated the blurb for my own sake, as well as to make sure this review isn’t as trackable, because boy…. this book was bad. I am not about to pretend to be nice about it: it’s highly racist, has bad sexuality rep, and perpetuates harmful stereotypes against mentally ill people and intersex people.

While I would usually not give books like this a blog review, instead just putting my issues in a Goodreads review, I’m making the decision to review it to warn future readers if I can, and to amplify a much needed discussion on the usage of harmful stereotypes, especially in horror fiction.


To start off with: I did actually like the characters at first, and the first part isn’t actually that bad. I do think the cast is multifaceted to begin with, all different and trope defying in some respects, although even they can’t escape some harmful tropes of the genre. Once it hit the halfway mark, I realised just how bad the characterisation was, and that was where this book started going downhill.


My first comment: this is described as a ‘sly take’ on the genre, but- it’s really not? It tries so hard to defy the tropes of the genre it just ends up buying into them more, and not even those that are fun. It lacks the spooks of what makes, say, Scooby Doo- a staple of this particular brand of story- fun, and also doesn’t have the light-heartedness of the genre that makes it so enjoyable and the characters so nuanced. While they start off as good characters, they never really develop beyond what we see in their introduction.

And the writing, oh boy. There is so much weird phrasing and grammatical errors present. ‘Let me remark you’ instead of ‘remind’ is one of my particular favourites; unneeded verbs after speech, to the point where I only had to go to one random page to find one.

Tell me why it’s necessary to say ‘Kerri second-guessed’. I’ll wait.

Sometimes the dialogue flows; in other instances, it’s stunted, hard to follow. There’s unneeded flowery exposition, overly descriptive to the point where I would zone out and just skip paragraphs and still not lose out on anything. Moments that would have been emotional in any other story lack the same impact due to how bogged down the whole story is with the same dramatic language. Kerri is described as a ‘scientific skeptic’; not only very incorrect phrasing once you understand the context of the sentence, but also a major spelling mistake of ‘sceptic’.

This story needed so much more done by the editors, and it was exhausting reading it. 


And onto the harmful tropes.

While she’s never confirmed on page- the writer has an aversion to that, surprisingly, and refuses to let them label their relationship by the end– Andy is coded as a lesbian, in love with Kerri basically from page one. When Andy finally tells her, they’ve been sharing a bed, had Andy fantasising about her and romanticising her, and you’re pretty sure Kerri likes her. Instead, Kerri says ‘I’m not interested’… and Andy’s response is to get even more touchy-feely, kiss her more than once, and you think Kerri is uncomfortable. Until she goes ‘we can still share a bed’. It’s so confusing!

The characters are so inconsistent by the halfway mark, and the instances where Andy touches her before Kerri says it’s cool make me highly uncomfortable. It feels like the writer uses the lesbophobic trope of predatory behaviour without even meaning to, just because he’s inconsistent as a writer. This might just be a ‘me’ thing, but all of this could be avoided by having Andy just keep her distance. Having her be touchy instead feels like completely out of character behaviour for her.

One of the even more glaring issues is the way mental institutions, asylums and mental illness are treated. As always, mental institutions are shown to be quirky and excitingrefusing to treat real people with real illnesses more than just something to laugh at. There’s ableist language in regards to Nate and other patients- crazy, mad, etc.- and Nate says that the patients there ”normalise” him, just because they are actually mentally ill and he’s not. He’s demeaning and basically laughs at other patients, and it’s sickening.

Also, a character is described as a hermaphrodite, which- no. It’s a harmful, stigmatising term no longer used in tandem with intersex people, and it’s really, really nasty. Commenting on someone being intersex as well, in the context of labelling people by their mental illnesses, also implies it’s a mental illness, which it really isn’t. Sure, this is set in 1990, but sex/gender issues and mental illnesses are consistently laughed at in these ‘mental institution’ stories rather than to show the stigma and horrors people face. This is also the same for the constant comments about schizophrenic and depressed people, which is ridiculous, considering Nate’s character may be schizophrenic if you approach him through the lens that he does have a mental illness going untreated.

If you’re going to include people suffering from mental illnesses, or of specific gender, sexual and sexual orientations, especially when the stigmas against them and the hate they faced was even more severe, don’t treat them like a spectacle. Actually provide commentary, even if it’s not your main focus, on the prejudice they face. I’m sick of the mental illness as a spectacle trope, of seeing issues of sex and gender treated as something to ‘rope in’ with mental illness, an incredible outdated mode of thinking for a cast that includes people suffering from PTSD and trauma, as well as two queer characters.

The ending, to top it all off, isn’t even satisfying. It was OK, but I knocked it all the way down to a 1 star for employing extremely racist tropes towards Native American people in literally the last few pages of the book. The bar was so, so low, but this book crossed it into stereotyping Native people and culture for absolutely no reason other than to… buy even more into the genre?

Also, this quote- warning for rape:

‘If the town whore from assraping Salem put two and two together with the help of that book, so can you!’ 

THAT’S A WHOLE REAL QUOTE. I SWEAR TO YOU I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP. Slut shaming and the use of rape? It’s honestly shocking, and that’s where I completely switched off. I knew this was a 1 star for definite.


Horror needs to do more to stray from the stereotypes and tropes that have plagued it for several hundred years now. The portrayal of mentally ill people, of LGBT+ people, of people of different races, needs to stop being shown the way it is. It’s dominated by writers who show a lack of education on modern conversation on stereotyping, stigmas, everything: they refuse to stray from the ‘Other’ the genre was built on, and that needs to change. 


RATING: 1 star, and I won’t give it my usual apple, because if it was an apple, it would be a rotten one.


 

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Meddling Kids; or, a discussion on harmful stereotypes and tropes

      1. It’s my pleasure. Nothing to worry about now. You have written such a fantastic review.
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  1. Jess @ Jessticulates

    Great review! I’d heard some bad things about this one, but I didn’t realise it was THIS bad. I mean… who edited this and thought ‘yep, this is good to go’? Obviously the author is the one who needs to put the work in to stop perpetuating negative and harmful stereotypes, but when no one else picks up on it I want to know what the hell went wrong. I definitely won’t be picking this one up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d heard bad things too, but it was mainly about character issues! Nobody really got into depth so I figured I should just to warn other people if they are drawn to it, especially since it’s sold as being like Scooby Doo! There’s definitely a way to prevent things like this coming out so bad, and there needs to be a better system in place to educate people on what’s dangerous/perpetuating harmful stereotypes!

      Like

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