The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Casper, Johnny, and Gwinny are quite unhappy when their mother marries Jack, whose dour nature and heavy handed approach to discipline lead them to dub him The Ogre. Adding to their unhappiness are their two new stepbrothers, Malcolm and Douglas, who are every bit as unappealing as The Ogre, albeit in different ways. When Jack gives each group of children a chemistry set, everyone is surprised, but no one expects magical results. However, they soon discover that some combinations of ingredients lead to such fantastic results as being literally lighter than air ... or to having inanimate objects come to life. This leads not only to great fun but opens the door to greater understanding between the children as their magical misadventures force them out of their comfortable roles of resenting others who they have not made any attempt to understand.
As with many of the books written for younger readers, this one was less interesting to me than other Wynne Jones wrote. However, also as with others of this stripe, anything by this author winds up being compelling, or such is my experience. If the reader hangs on until the last fourth of the book, the action ratchets up and the book becomes quite compelling. I would have liked to see the Ogre's character developed more, as well as his relationship with Sally. We are never shown a reason for her to be so fond of him, at least from the children's point of view. That is what keeps this book from being better than it is. However, it does end on a note of new beginnings and the beginning of everyone's attempt to understand each other better is probably the reason these characters are left fairly undeveloped.
I especially enjoyed the toffee bars, the pipe, and the dust bunnies. Confused? Read the book and you'll know what I'm talking about.
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