Reviews of an excellent new YA release this week, plus some backlist middle grade titles I finished recently!
Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan (Knopf – April 18, 2017)
OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Revenge of the Nerds in this tale of a teen misfit who seeks to take down the bro next door, but ends up falling for his enemy’s sister and uncovering difficult truths about his family in the process.
Tom Grendel lives a quiet life—writing in his notebooks, mowing lawns for his elderly neighbors, and pining for Willow, a girl next door who rejects the “manic-pixie-dream” label. But when Willow’s brother, Rex (the bro-iest bro ever to don a jockstrap), starts throwing wild parties, the idyllic senior citizens’ community where they live is transformed into a war zone. Tom is rightfully pissed—his dad is an Iraq vet, and the noise from the parties triggers his PTSD—so he comes up with a plan to end the parties for good. But of course, it’s not that simple.
One retaliation leads to another, and things quickly escalate out of control, driving Tom and Willow apart, even as the parties continue unabated. Add to that an angsty existential crisis born of selectively reading his sister’s Philosophy 101 coursework, a botched break-in at an artisanal pig farm, and ten years of unresolved baggage stemming from his mother’s death…and the question isn’t so much whether Tom Grendel will win the day and get the girl, but whether he’ll survive intact.
This brand-new YA deserves ALL the stars!
First, let’s talk about this whole Beowulf thing. I honestly knew NOTHING about this book when I started reading it – I didn’t even read the official blurb until after the fact. I requested it from NetGalley because as a school librarian I request every single middle grade and YA title and sample a gazillion of them, only finishing the ones that grab me within the first chapter or so. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I laughed and I cried, sometimes simultaneously, and fell so deeply in love with Tom Grendel. But. I had no idea there was a Beowulf storyline, and to be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered because I have never read Beowulf (Oh come on. Have you?). Maybe I would have a completely different opinion of this book if I knew that story? Who knows, but what I do know is that none of my high school students have read Beowulf either, and I know a bunch of kids who I will immediately hand this book to. I’m sure there is added depth for those familiar with that body of work, but for those unashamed of our unfamiliarity with it, there is plenty of material to love. For those who want more information on that part of the storyline, there is back matter describing the author’s motivation regarding Beowulf (and which represents my complete knowledge of the topic).
A few of the things about this story that I especially loved:
1) Grendel’s respect for and kindness toward all of the older women he is surrounded by in his neighborhood. There were so many times I just wanted to hug him for being so sweet.
2) His aching grief for his mother, and his quest to really know who she was. The emotions were so raw and real, and made me cry.
3) His relationship with his father, a man traumatized by his military combat experiences. The fact that his entire feud with his neighbors is based on his attempt to save his father from PTSD episodes is absolutely heartbreaking.
4) Just how extremely FUNNY this book is! I don’t want to include spoilers, but some of the pranks were completely ridiculous and I loved the author’s descriptions and writing style during these scenes. Was everything believable? Not really, but I didn’t care.
Required reading for fans of John Green and Jeff Zentner.
I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (Arthur A. Levine – January 31st, 2017)
OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his house, in the last wild patch left, picking up litter and looking for animal tracks.
One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog, or maybe a small boar. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has ever seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal–Marvin Gardens–soon becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.
In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King tells the story of a friendship that could actually save the world.
This review needs to be in list form to highlight my love for this quirky and amazing middle grade book:
1) perfect way to approach environmental issues with the middle grade audience! Fans of “Hoot” by Carl Hiassen will love this, or fans of this story will love “Hoot” depending on their age/reading history.
2) excellent portrayal of how some kids handle bullying, and I loved how strong Obe and Annie were in the face of it. Not immune, but it did not break them
3) the author’s note makes clear how near and dear this issue of clearing farm land for development is to the author’s heart. That makes it even more special for the reader.
4) Obe’s parents are so imperfect and authentic, especially his mom’s regret over her lack of education and his dad’s love for Monopoly.
5) Marvin Gardens is the best animal character I have read in quite awhile, a feat most incredible given that he is a completely invented animal! King describes him so well that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I my kids found a MG living down by my own creek.
Highly recommend for grades 4-6 or as a read aloud for grade 3 and up. Would love to see this title on lists such as the Global Read Aloud due to the importance and urgency of the environmental issues. My 11-year-old daughter read it in a day and absolutely loved it.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Delacorte – August 2, 2016)
OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:
In this incredible, heart-wrenching story reminiscent of E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, Kate Saunders illustrates the power of war but the even greater power of family, and the love that carries us out of the darkness of despair into the light of hope.
The sand fairy, also known as the Psammead, is merely a creature from stories Lamb and Edith have heard their older brothers and sisters tell . . . until he suddenly reappears. Lamb and Edith are pleased to have something to take their minds off the war, but this time the Psammead’s magic might have a serious purpose.
Before their adventure ends, all will be changed, and the Lamb and Edith will have seen the Great War from every possible viewpoint—that of factory workers, soldiers and sailors, and nurses. But most of all, the war’s impact will be felt by those left behind, at the very heart of their family.
Required reading for anyone who has read Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (which I did as a child) – and this review by Betsy on Goodreads is a must-read! She does an amazing job of giving a ton of backstory and explaining why this book is so good. She writes exactly what I would have. I loved the book due to my nostalgia for the original story, but won’t be purchasing this for my school library.
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (WordSong – October 4, 2016)
OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading—anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely. When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father—by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.
Very, very short middle grade story in verse that is perfect for anyone who isn’t the person a parent is expecting – in this case, a dreamer/chess player/reader/singer rather than a football player. I really liked the messages about finding oneself, body acceptance and rejection of dieting, especially in reference to a male protagonist.