From the back cover:
Matilda is a genius. Before she was three years old she was reading the newspaper. By the age of four, Matilda was reading classics by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. By the time Matilda becomes a student at Crunchem Hall, she’s bored stiff. When Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, tries to get her moved up a few grades she runs up against the Headmistress, Miss Trunchbull—two hundred pounds of mean, nasty, kid-hating bully.
Can even a genius like Matilda survive the rampages of Miss Trunchbull—or should she come up with a crafty plan to rid the school of the bully once and for all?
Matilda Wormwood is a genius, though her idiotic parents are completely incapable of recognizing this fact. Just when she’s about to start school, her father badmouths her to the cruel headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who thereafter persists in having a negative opinion of Matilda, even after the girl’s teacher, Miss Honey, describes what a phenomenal child she is. When Matilda discovers that she possesses the ability to help the desperately poor Miss Honey and get back at Miss Trunchbull simultaneously, she leaps at the chance.
I really do think Dahl is remarkable among writers of children’s fiction for being able to craft stories that are equally appealing to children and adults. For example, although Matilda is moved to seek revenge against some odious adults in her life, grown-ups in general are not portrayed as villains, since her closest confidante is Miss Honey. And though the humor is clearly geared for children, it’s never stupid or crude and Matilda is generally polite and thoughtful. Probably a lot of this has to do with Dahl’s being British; I’ve seen plenty of obnoxious American tales about smug children humiliating adults and Matilda is nothing like them.
That said, how I wish I had discovered Matilda when I was ten! Like the lead character, I was the bookish daughter of TV-inclined parents, though at least mine were generally encouraging. I also had a dreadful experience in fourth grade of being presumed guilty by a teacher of something I didn’t do simply because I was away in Gifted class at the time and, unlike all of my other classmates, had not been given the opportunity to deny the accusations. Reading about Matilda and the similar plight in which she finds herself probably would’ve buoyed my spirits enormously at the time and made me feel less powerless.
I’ve now read and enjoyed two books by Dahl, which has spurred me to consider embarking on a more comprehensive effort. Stay tuned!