Alcatraz benefited tremendously from not being Unnamed Awful Book. On another day, I might have disliked Alcatraz Smedry's snarky narration and his frequent interruptions to make meta-comments on the nature of writing and/or reality. Today, however, I didn't care. I was just grateful to be reading a book with a grasp on the basics of writing. Every now and then, I would put Alcatraz down, pick up the Awful Book, and read another few pages. (I know it doesn't get better. ladyperegrine already warned me. But I am morbidly curious, and I would sort of like to have read it so that I can condemn it on the basis of what it contains instead of what I've heard about it.) Then I would put it down in disgust, pick up Alcatraz, and sigh with relief as I read a few more chapters of a book that was not actively painful to endure. Alcatraz is neither squicky nor repetive nor bad, and today that's enough to get it an 8. Thank you, Brandon Sanderson.
Anyway, apart from not being a trainwreck of paper and ink: Alcatraz is a YA novel in the tradition of 'young person of the modern world discovers his heritage as a member of a magical world and joins fight against ancient nemesis'. It riffs off of Harry Potter -- adolescent male protagonist, foster parents, magical revelations on his birthday -- but is not a Potter-like story generally. More poking good-humoredly at a few of the tropes of the Potter books. It has a humorous style that reminds me of Pratchett: there are various nonsensical riffs off of our world, (eg: guns are primitive weapons while swords are advanced ones) done in such a way as to make at least some sense in the context of the story environment.
The choice of an author making librarians (all of them!) part of a vast evil conspiracy is, in itself, pretty funny when you think about it. I mean, have you ever met any author that didn't love libraries? :)
As is typical of Sanderson novels, magic use is interesting and internally consistent. Some of the characters have Talents, all of which are introduced with the most pedestrian possible description: "I break things." "I have the ability to arrive late to things." "I can trip." And then the Talents are showcased so you can see how these things are, in fact, useful. When the time comes for the characters to be clever, they do not disappoint.
The narrator, as mentioned before, can get annoying, but as mentioned earlier, I am willing to forgive him everything for not being the unforgivably insipid narrator of The Awful Book. Reading the sequel is not high on my priority list, but I may check it out some time.