The difference between the blurbs and the blurb words in context for the book Jack Tumor.

“Lots of laughs.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Lots of laughs but little else.”

“The love-hate relationship between Hector and his alter ego is engaging.” —School Library Journal
“The love-hate relationship between Hector and his alter ego is engaging. But, the abundant penis jokes, sex gags, farting, and use of the f-word and other profanities are over-the-top. One tires of distended testicles, pubic lice, anal probes. The message that brain cancer need not mean the end of one’s life and can actually help a teenager stop worrying about his peers is a good one. Too bad the message, Hector’s insightful humor, and his love-hate relationship with Jack are buried in so much vulgarity.”

“McGowan injects plenty of humor.” —Publishers Weekly
“Though the story can ramble painfully, McGowan injects plenty of humor, phallic references and British slang into this edgy coming-of-age tale.”

4 thoughts on “Blurbism

  1. Anthony McGowan

    I think you scored a hit there with the Kirkus review, but I don’t think the other two were particularly out of context – they were both pretty good reviews. I got a bit annoyed at Kirkus, which completely missed the weightier parts of the book – after all, it’s based pretty closely on Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1 – most of what the tumour says comes straight out of Shakespeare, but there is alsp quite a lot of fairly heavy philosophizing in the book. To characterize it as simply a lightweight gag fest is silly, and suggests the reviewer didn’t really read the book at all.
    Still, though, IU’m impressed with your work, here, and it’s well worth doing.
    Anthony McGowan

  2. Sarah

    I agree that the reviews were positive overall, but the main reason I checked on the context of these blurbs was that I was astounded that Kirkus would give this such a light-hearted review. My own review (for Washington Young Adult Review Group, see below) is fairly harsh. If your descriptive writing hadn’t been so good (I especially liked the background story of the two chip shops in town), I would not have been so hard on your book. The rest of it did not seem to live up to your ability. I admit I did not at all notice the ties to Shakespeare other than the tumor’s poetic cursing, but I feel that a plot from an outside literary source should make sense even if the reader doesn’t understand the reference (a recent good example is Downtown Owl by Klosterman), though I am to some extent not surprised: I wished for some additional context for the characters’ actions to make sense. Turns out it may be in a different book.

    The link to Henry IV part 1 may feel especially strained in the US, where the play is less likely to be read in schools and where the tumor’s name was changed from Henry to Jack. The hell? I’m guessing that was not your choice.

    I look forward to you future work, however, and hope you can take my criticism in that light.

    My review:
    A repackaged and renamed import (it was Henry Tumor when it was originally published in the UK in 2006), Jack Tumor is about half of a good book. The premise, a growing tumor in 14 year old Hector’s brain begins to speak to him and changes his behavior, is novel and interesting, and the author is very good at funny turns of phrase and elegant description. The good writing, however, does not outweigh the poor plotting, characterization, and structure. The genital-based humor, underage drinking, and realistic teenage lust make the book an unlikely choice for a junior high school library (though some fucks were apparently removed for the US audience). The book can certainly be enjoyed for what it is, but I hope McGowan has a truly great novel in his future. Not Recommended.

  3. Kelly

    I read this book and liked it. I’m always looking to learn more about what makes good writing, so I was curious if you could expand on the plotting, characterization, and structure issues you mentioned in your review? I know it’s been a couple months but I’d really like to learn more, even if you can just remember a detail or two!

  4. Sarah

    It has been a while since I read it, so I would have to go back through it to give specific examples, but throughout the book the main character seemed to be just going through the motions of his life. He didn’t seem to be an entirely fleshed-out character and would often do things that seemed unmotivated. His reactions seemed very blunted, when he is in a situation that would cause most people panic. The action of the book also seemed like some strung together events rather than any kind of cohesive story. It was one of those books where the author seemed to be observing a story rather than actively choosing events to convey the other elements effectively. I was also struck by the sheer laziness the convenient actions of a just-then-introduced character at the start of the confrontation on the school grounds.

    The big issue of the book ended up being more of a premise to justify the style of writing rather than a serious exploration of how someone at that stage of their life would deal with a neurological cancer. Which is fine, but I would make sure that anyone I gave the book to understood what they would be getting.

    Overall, I recommend reading Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library by Joyce G. Saricks. She covers the different ways people enjoy books, concepts I have often used in my review reading. I also recommend getting to know the developmental tasks of teens: the life issues most often on their radar as they grow up (it’s a really quick way to tell if a book is good for teens or is an adult book featuring a teen character– what issues concern them? Teen issues or adult-looking-back issues?)

    Best of luck in your reading and writing.

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