18 September 2012


Author: John Dickinson
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers
UK Release date: September 2012
Genre: Children’s / MG
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

Everyone has a Lifetime Deed Counter (LDC). It works like this: You offer to help with the housework: Lifetime Good Deeds +1. You steal your little brother's sweets: Lifetime Bad Deeds +1.
When Muddlespot is promoted from a devil's janitor to special agent, the pressure is on for him to infiltrate Sally Jones and make her Bad. If he doesn't, it will be Very Bad for him. But as his mission leads him down Sally's ear and into the deepest recesses of her mind, all becomes unclear. Just what does it mean to be good? And can it be good to be bad?

Muddlespot has been sent on a mission of great importance: to turn Sally Jones to the dark side. For an overgrown wart that cleans up entrails, his promotion to special agent was a pretty big deal, but despite being taken out of his comfort zone he seemed to muddle his way through somehow. In fact Muddlespot was the most unsuspecting protagonist there is. At least I think he’s the protagonist. Coming from Pandemonium, aka hell, he should be the antagonist. But for someone who lives in Pandemonium, he isn’t really all that bad. In fact I rather liked him. I wish I knew more about him, but I’m not sure that you could know more about someone that has been grown from a wart by his evil master Corozin purely to clean up the left overs of the other special agents that fail.

It took me a while to realise that the 'Win' in the book title actually referred to Windleberry, a tuxedo wearing angel sent down to save Sally. With a Lifetime Deed Counter that absolutely no bad deeds, Sally is very special. And it is up to Windleberry to jump into Sally's head like some James Bond character and protect her from evil thoughts. I loved the way that Sally's organised and almost repressed brain and thoughts change, so that when Windleberry enters her brain, it's full of vandalised statues and graffiti. And I also liked the psychological element of the angels and demons influencing people and I could imagine people in the real world struggling with good and bad thoughts being feed to them from external forces before acting. Hearing little snippets of what was being whispered to Sally's teachers and mum was funny and you could see the point at which they sometimes broke and committed a bad deed.

The story takes a very blasĂ© attitude to gore and violence. In Pandemonium, torture is commonplace, with fleshed peeled from bones and eyes literally rolling across the ground. I can imagine that some young boys would rather enjoy all the gory details and jokes within the text, but personally I’m not sure such a throw-away attitude would be good for every young reader.

The idea of an angel and devil whispering away to the subconscious mind, isn’t a new one. But the way John Dickinson has written Muddle and Win, and included such unusual characters, brings up so many questions and moral dilemmas. What makes someone good or bad? Can being bad be justified? Can you be bad but still be good? Maybe using the terms good and bad is too black and white. Sometimes standing up for yourself can seem like being bad, but for someone like Sally, who has always done everything other people’s way, a bit of selfishness certainly wouldn’t hurt her. Well, maybe. For younger readers, I think the book will be a good prompt to think about their own behaviour. It certainly made me think.

Sally’s ‘naughty’ sister, Billie couldn’t do anything right. As we were introduced to the inner Billie, Scattletail, her resident demon, and Ismael, her guardian angel, I enjoyed seeing why Billie acts the way she does. At first she just seemed like the naughty, selfish one, but as I started thinking about how people and their actions interplay and rebound, I kind of felt sorry for her. She’s always been compared to her sister and struggles to do anything as well. But when you get inside her head, the relationship between inner Billie, Scattletail and Ismael was much more balanced and relaxed and seemed like a lot more fun, especially when they played cards together.

Although I enjoyed the story overall, it seemed to take a long time for Muddlespot and Windleberry to both get inside Sally's mind. In fact the story was half way in, before any of the really interesting 'thought-persuasion' and angel versus demon dilemmas started. 

Muddle and Win: The Battle for Sally Jones is a thought provoking book about good, bad and deeds somewhere in the middle.

Rating: 4*

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