Have you ever read a book with a narrator/protagonist so relatable and endearing, you feel sad at the end of the story to have to say goodbye to him?...moreHave you ever read a book with a narrator/protagonist so relatable and endearing, you feel sad at the end of the story to have to say goodbye to him? That's how I feel about Steven, the narrator of "Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie." He changed and grew so much over the course of this story. I loved how real and ugly his initial reactions to his little brother's illness were. His jealousy, his frustration, his eye-rolling attitude--author Jordan Sonnenblick did a good job of making Steven real. He's no saintly figure, selfless and only thinking of his sickly little brother. It is often a struggle for him to put Jeffrey first and he resents it at times. It was this realness that made Steven's eventual decisions to put Jeffrey first that made those moment so poignant and beautiful.(less)
Nicky Flynn is a lovable misanthrope. Well, to call him a "misanthrope" may be extreme, but he is, at the very least, quite grumpy. At eleven, he thin...moreNicky Flynn is a lovable misanthrope. Well, to call him a "misanthrope" may be extreme, but he is, at the very least, quite grumpy. At eleven, he thinks he's got it all figured out and has little patience for the mess his mother has gotten them into (or, at least that's how Nicky sees it).
Nicky's whole world has been turned upside-down. His parents are going through a messy divorce and his mom, as Nicky likes to point out repeatedly, his mom decided she needed to "stand on her own two feet" and moved them from a house in the perfect (according to Nicky's descriptions) suburb of Littleton to a tiny/scuzzy apartment in the rough not-quite-Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. As Nicky narrates the story in a conversational present tense, you can practically see his eyes roll and hear him heave a heavy sigh at pretty much everything and everyone that crosses his path--his therapist's clumsy attempts to get Nicky to "open up," a quirky classmate's odd conversation-starters, and even his mom's surprise gift at the beginning of the novel...a dog!
Man's-best-friend novels always run the risk of being a bit cliched. But what makes Art Corriveau's take on the old boy-and-dog story feel fresh and engaging is that Nicky wants nothing to do with Reggie (a stupid name, Nicky points out, given by a past owner, not himself). The story opens with Nicky complaining to the reader about how irresponsible and typical it is that his mother went out and got this dog without even thinking about the practical side of owning a dog. At first, Nicky tries to avoid Reggie, but when it becomes clear that his mother will not be doing the walking and feeding, responsible and reliable Nicky steps up. Reggie's need for daily walks forces Nicky out of the house into the neighborhood he hates to much. Slowly, Nicky and Reggie begin to share adventures together in Charlestown and Nicky starts to (begrudgingly, and under somewhat unusual circumstances) make connections with the neighborhood and its people.
Nicky's voice is so engaging. No matter how grumpy he is, you see his warm and honest heart shining through. As he and Reggie explore Charlestown and Boston together, Nicky thinks back on a special day he spent exploring the city with his dad. Nicky's holds his dad up on a pedestal, and your heart aches for him as time and time again, his dad bails on weekend plans. As a reader, you try to make sense of the image Nicky paints of his father and the image that the facts seem to show--a dad who just isn't around. You want to comfort Nicky, but at the same time, tell him to snap out of it.
How I, Nicky Flynn... is a funny, sweet, sincere story. It confronts the fact that everyone makes mistakes, kids and adults alike and that change, scary as it may seem, can be the best thing that happened to you.(less)
I had my doubts when I first saw the cover of The Fourth Stall (a spoof on the movie poster of "The Godfather"). Would middle grade readers be interes...moreI had my doubts when I first saw the cover of The Fourth Stall (a spoof on the movie poster of "The Godfather"). Would middle grade readers be interested in (or get) the references made to the crime/mafia drama genre? But my doubts were soon laid to rest. The Fourth Stall is clever, unique and thoroughly entertaining. I wasn't the only one who loved the playful tone of this novel. Several of my students read it after I raved about it in class, and it was a big hit all around.
The Fourth Stall starts strong with the likable voice of Mac. He's not your typical 6th-grader. Mac is pretty much the "godfather" of his school. When kids need help (with a test, a bully, getting into an R-rated movie), Mac is the one they turn to. The title refers to Mac's "office," which is set up in a rarely-used bathroom in Mac's school. (The office was obtained through one of Mac's most valuable "connections"--the school janitor.) Mac is a kind-hearted kid, but also a shrewd businessman (with the help of his best friend/business manager Vince). Mac and Vince have enjoyed uninterrupted business since kindergarten, until a legendary bully that goes by the name "Staples" is rumored to be running an illegal gambling ring right under their noses. Staples becomes a threat to everything Mac and Vince have worked for (namely, the World Series Cubs tickets they have been saving for since their first day of business).
The Fourth Stall had me cracking up (somewhat embarrassingly) in public places--reading on the train, for example. There is just something so endearing and witty about Mac's tough mobster tone being used to talk about things like recess, bullies, substitute teachers and riding his bike. This contrast on tone and content makes for a lot of humor. But The Fourth Stall does not make fun of its characters the way many spoof novels do. Often, when writers decide to spoof on a genre, they do not take the time to develop realistic, likable, sympathetic characters. But Mac and Vince completely pulled me in. Their feelings were real to me and I found myself on the edge of my seat, hoping that their business (and friendship) wouldn't crumble the way Staples seemed to want it to.
The Fourth Stall has it all--laughs, tension, excitement, engaging characters, a message. Whether you're a fan of mafia/crime fiction or not, you'll get a kick out of this playful twist.(less)