The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events #4)
I hope, for your sake, that you have not chosen to read this book because you are in the mood for a pleasant experience. If this is the case, I advise you to put this book down instantaneously, because of all the books describing the unhappy lives of the Baudelaire orphans, The Miserable Mill might be the unhappiest yet. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumber mill, and they find disaster and misfortune lurking behind every log. The pages of this book, I'm sorry to inform you, contain such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons. I have promised to write down the entire history of these three poor children, but you haven't, so if you prefer stories that are more heartwarming, please feel free to make another selection.
With all due respect,
TITLE: The Miserable Mill
AUTHOR: Lemony Snicket
LENGTH: 208 pages
AGE: Middle Grade
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
THE MISERABLE MILL turns up the cruelty and adds a new flavor of transphobia. Like many transphobic depictions, it manages this without a single (known) queer person in sight.
In addition to briefly continuing the transphobic and fatphobic descriptions of one of Count Olaf’s henchpeople, it uses a transphobic fearmongering trope of a man dressing as a woman in order to get illicit access to children (the man, of course, is Count Olaf in yet another disguise). It also adds derogatory language for little people as a bad joke about the three children not being as tall as adults, then it doubles down by continuing to use this term throughout the book for no reason other than cruelty.
This doesn’t specifically wrap up anything left hanging from the previous book, but it does reference prior events and the ongoing threat of Count Olaf’s schemes. The storyline is new, in a new setting with new cruelties. It doesn’t specifically leave anything for later, other then that Olaf gets away again and the Baudelaires are still orphans in need of a guardian. The narrator is consistent, slowly dropping hints about his own tortured past. This would mostly make sense if someone picked this up and didn’t know about the other books, or even if they only read the first book and skipped to this one.
The characterization of the kids is slowly developing, with them having to do things that one of the others is normally the one to handle. It's nice to see them growing as characters, even if just a little in the short time the book covers. The plot is fine, it incorporates a workers’ rights narrative into the ongoing child abuse saga. Unfortunately it also features malicious crossdressing, as I mentioned earlier. I liked some bits of the sawmill storyline, but am sour on the book overall.
CW for ableism, fatphobia (brief), transphobia, drug use (smoking), child abuse, emotional abuse, blood, gore, injury description, torture, parental death (backstory), death.