Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a Willy Wonka-type adventure (but with less candy and more books)

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

By Chris Grabenstein

Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

A group of kids must escape a game-maker’s library in order to win the grand prize

This was our last read-aloud for the school year. I selected it because I hoped it would be a fun, exciting story to start the summer. My boys did enjoy it, but I was a tad underwhelmed.

I must say, though, that the ending made up for what I thought was a snoozy middle.

When I finished reading the last couple of chapters, my boys (7 and 8 years old) were literally jumping and rolling off the couch and around the carpet. All the tension and excitement they were feeling was manifesting in these funny physical gyrations, and it was hilarious to watch.

The story premise is great. An eccentric game-maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has built a state-of-the-art library in his childhood hometown, and he invites twelve 12-year-olds to a lock-in at the library. The next morning, they opt into an epic game to “escape” the library and win fame and fortune as Lemoncello spokes-kids.

The clues and puzzles were excellent. I felt like they were difficult enough to warrant the fanfare surrounding the game event. The only thing, though, was that SO much went over my boys’ heads. As the adult, I caught all the allusions and Easter eggs, and I wanted to explain them to my boys, but I refrained, haha.

I felt like the writing and the characters were on the weaker side. Granted, this is a plot-driven adventure story, but I was expecting a bit more in the character department. That would’ve helped support the middle of the novel, which dragged for me.

There wasn’t much “there” there, even for our hero, Kyle. The most interesting character is Charles because he’s a worthy villain, who tries to weasel and fake his way to the top. It’s good to see him taken down a notch—my boys loved it—but he’s also something of a caricature.

If each character could’ve displayed more internal conflict, our interest would’ve skyrocketed. There’s one point at which Kyle is tempted to play video games instead of help his team look for clues, and after a quick pause, he resists the temptation. Had the characters had grown and changed to a greater degree, the book would’ve had more to offer.

Also, the grand prize (being a Lemoncello spokesperson) seemed a little strange. I would not wish fame on these poor kids!


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