When I heard there was a young adult novel out there set at my favorite place in the world, I literally went right out and bought it. More accurately, I turned on my Kindle and downloaded it. Being a junior high teacher, I read a lot of YA lit and it is one of my go to genres. And obviously I’m into anything about Disneyland, so I figured this was a match made in heaven.
Disneylanders by Kate Abbott is about a young teen girl who is in that awkward age of in between middle school and high school. She has just been ditched by her lifelong best friend, who no longer thinks she’s cool enough, and she is embarking with her dorky parents on their yearly trip to Disneyland. Acacia, better known as Casey, is a huge Disneyland fan, as well as an amateur photog. When she meets Bert (yes, as in Mary Poppins), a super cute older boy, she spends the rest of her vacation struggling with some pretty big life issues–growing up, losing friends, disappointing her parents, and more. Overall, some fairly large themes are tackled in a relatively short time.
The backdrop of Disneylanders is, of course, the Happiest Place on Earth. And the setting is by far the best part of this novel. Abbott is clearly a Disneyland fan herself and the details with which she describes the park are both historically accurate (the novel takes place in 2001) and beautifully written. It is evident from the first moment Casey steps foot in the park that Abbott has a) done her homework and b) spent a good deal of time in the Magic Kingdom. Being a frequent Disneylander myself, I certainly admire the way she was able to describe the different locations and experiences of the park.
Unfortunately, Abbott’s characters did not live up to her setting. I found Casey to be whiny and ungrateful, and not in a typical teenage way. I know that to a teenager, friendships and relationships are HUGE issues, but I didn’t feel that hugeness as a reader. I thought Casey’s reactions to events in the novel, in particular in dealing with her parents, were overdone. On the flip side, I also felt Casey’s parents were caricatures of embarrassing parents and their reactions to Casey seemed unrealistic. Bert, a fifteen year old dream boy who always says and does the right thing, was just a little too perfect (and I do spend my days dealing with teenage boys, so trust me, I know). In general, I felt like the storyline was written by a thirteen year old girl–kind of shallow, definitely unrealistic, and unless you are said thirteen year old girl, totally unrelatable. Perhaps the main problem in the novel is just how many issues are tackled in two days time. I mean, I know teenage girls fall in love quickly, but Casey and Bert have barely just met and they are already going out on a date (and her parents let her go off by herself with an older boy while the family is away from home–doesn’t really fit in with their overprotective vibe they have the rest of the novel). Only so much can change in two days and I think the novel would have been better served with a longer timeline. The novel lacks the depth of both character and plot that make YA lit so entertaining, even to adults. I did not care about these characters and that made the book flat for me.
Bottom line: If you are a huge Disneyland fan, this is not a bad read, just for the setting. But if you haven’t spent a lot of time in the park, you aren’t going to have much to hold onto in this novel.
If you would like to purchase Disneylanders, click this link.