fashion_piranha (fashion_piranha) wrote,

Review: Atticus of Rome and Pandora of Athens, both by Barry Denenberg

I'm doing a double-book review today of the first two books of the Life and Times Series by Scholastic.  Put together by the same team who created the My America, My Name is America, and Royal Diaries series, this particular set of childrens' books focuses on people who lived during the ancient civilizations.  I believe the series has since been abandoned; the other series mentioned above were all discontinued between 2004-2006 by their publisher, Scholastic.

Since this series is put together by some of the same folks who wrote the Dear America and Royal Diaries books, I assumed this would be in the form of diary entries. But no, it's regular text.

by Barry Denenberg

Book Description:  Acclaimed author Barry Denenberg brings to life the intrigue of Roman politics and the bloody violence of the gladiator games in this story about ancient Rome. Atticus, a young boy who has been torn from his family and home and sold as a slave to a Roman aristocrat, quickly learns that not all is as it seems in the republic of Rome. Politicians and greedy merchants plot against each other, and Atticus must do his best to protect his kindly master...and, in turn, the Emperor of Rome. Murder and lies fill his new life as a spy for Lucius Opimius.

Pretty gory for a kid's book. I think boys would enjoy the descriptions of gladiator violence, but their parents would probably not want them reading it! This book seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The language is so simplistic and the plot so basic I would assume it's written for the young, perhaps 8-12 market. But as mentioned, the story is extremely violent (Atticus and his master Lucius watch multiple gladiator battles, and we're gleefully given the many different ways a gladiator can be maimed and murdered in battle) and there's some plenty of heaving bosoms bouncing thanks to Lucius's bountifully-endowed wife. It's kind of awkward, since it seems like the narrator goes out of his way to avoid giving Atticus' exact age until extremely late in the novel, and I had been under the impression that Atticus was very young, between seven and ten.
Also, there's a serious chronology problem. Atticus mentions to an astrologer that he was born in 82 BC. Ignoring the fact that A ROMAN SLAVE WOULDN'T REFER TO BEING BORN "BEFORE CHRIST" DECADES BEFORE JESUS WAS BORN, the book is set in 30 BC. Says so right on the cover. So this little boy is actually in his fifties? Someone didn't proofread very well! Also...Augustus didn't become the first Roman Emperor until 27 BC...Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC...when this story takes place, there IS NO EMPEROR. Yeesh, Denenberg. That's just freakin' SLOPPY

by Barry Denenberg

Book Description:
Ancient Greece is brought brilliantly to life by renowned author Barry Denenberg. Pandora is trapped in the roles laid out for Greek women by her narrow-minded father. Much to her despair,she is engaged to marry a man more than twice her age, so that Pandora waits with dread for her fourteenth birthday, when she'll be old enough to marry. But one day, when Pandora goes to fetch water, she meets the Wise One, who is also called Socrates, and what he tells her changes her life. During his famed trial, Pandora finds herself caught up in the intrigue and turbulent politics of ancient Athens.

So the biggest problem with the book by far is that Pandora is a girl. I know that sounds oddly sexist, so let me explain. The world of the Greeks, especially in Athens, was a man's world. Women were expected to stay hidden in the home, acting as little more than baby-production machines. This is certainly how author Barry Denenberg treats his characters, but it means that Pandora can't really DO anything. She is passive for the majority of the book, gaining information by listening to what her male relatives say. So from a plot standpoint, she spends the whole novel telling instead of doing. Strike two against her is that she has just enough awareness of the outside world to resent her inability to experience it, so she spends A LOT of time complaining. So not only does Pandora fail to do much throughout the book, she is constantly telling the reader about how much it sucks that she's doing nothing. It's rather painful.

I wish Denenberg had written the story from the point-of-view of a boy. A boy would have been able to actually DO stuff and it would've been much more fun.

Tags: 1st century bc, 2004, 4th century bc, athens, barry denenberg, children’s fiction, fiction, gladiators, greece, historical fiction, life and time series, r2009, rome, slavery, socrates
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