cover image The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

John Bemelmans Marciano, illus. by Sophie Blackall. Viking, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-670-01406-4

“To say that the Baddenfield family had a checkered past is to insult innocent board games everywhere,” writes Marciano (Madeline at the White House). That arch observation—along with an opening graveside scene that makes it clear that bratty 12-year-old Alexander Baddenfield’ s death is wholly unregretted—may initially convince readers that they’ve found a book to plug the blackhearted hole once filled by Lemony Snicket. The tale, which concerns Alexander’s attempt to thwart the family curse of early death by stealing a cat’s nine lives, tips its hat both to A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Simpsons (the relationship between Alexander and his retainer, Winterbottom, instantly brings to mind the lopsided adoration of Smithers for Mr. Burns). There’s devilish humor to be found watching Alexander waste life after life, but the story wears itself out with weak characterizations, forced jokes, and swipes at the evils of wealth. Blackall’s Charles Addams vibe is a natural choice, but her intermittent illustrations are actually quite prim, even Alexander’s nine death scenes. Ages 10–up. Author’s agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Nancy Gallt, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Oct.)