I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
When their parents take them to a mysterious aunt’s house in the middle of the night, the Sinister-Winterbottom siblings aren’t sure what to think. And when they’re told they are going to stay there for the whole summer, and spend their days at a strange waterpark, even more questions arise. Twins Theo and Alexander are determined to get to the bottom of things, whether or not their phone-addicted sister Wil is going to help or not. The more time they spend at the park, the more odd circumstances they notice, from the shadowy figure at the top of a stone tower to the cryptic messages from the employees. But surely they aren’t in real danger…
Kiersten White seems to like placing her stories in bizarre amusement parks, doesn’t she? First Hide, now this.
This story reminds me of A Series of Unfortunate Events, with there being clever siblings working together to get out of bad situations. The characters here, Alexander and Theo and Wil, are fun, intelligent, and make a good team—particularly the former two. Their bond was really sweet, and I liked that it shows that though two people can be very different in skills and temperament, they can still value each other and work together well. It’s a good message for kids. Wil was also a good character, but I feel like her development and contribution to the story was kind of lacking. She’s not directly involved a lot of the time, and when she does appear, I feel like she knows isn’t that clear. But more on this later.
On a more positive note, I think the setting of this, Fathoms of Fun Waterpark, was excellently done. It’s well described, and the tone is both whimsical and a little ominous. I enjoyed the odd mashup of creepy imagery with amusement park elements, and I got the sense that White was having a great time coming up with it. The cabana designed like a mausoleum was definitely a stand out for me—and that the twins dubbed it the “cabasoleum.”
There are some clever puns (though nothing quite on Lemony Snicket’s level), which I always appreciate. And the fake tv show names were really funny—the best being the Magnificent English Confectionary Challenge. I also thought the homage to Brontë novels was an entertaining and clever addition. Kids might not pick up on these references, but some adults will find it fun to see nods to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
The wordplay and allusions aside, though, I found the ending of this story to be slightly disappointing. It wrapped up so quickly, I was left a little perplexed. There were a few characters whose roles I couldn’t tell the point of, and Wil’s knowledge of the plot seemed discussed in only a cursory way. I know that this is the first of a series, but it sounds like the next installment will take place in a new setting, so it’s weird to me that these loose ends were left dangling.
In the end, though, Wretched Waterpark is a weird and whimsical read. The characters are decent and the plot moves along quickly. It’s a little spooky at times, and the setting is great. It’s not the best creepy middle grade I’ve ever read, but fans of the genre will certainly enjoy this.
Wretched Waterpark will be published on June 7th, 2022!