This book has kind of mediocre reviews on Goodreads, but here’s the thing: if this had been McManus’s debut rather than following One of Us Is Lying, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it. It’s just that McManus’s first book is so brilliant and expectations were sky high that this one felt like a letdown. And yeah, it’s not as good. But it certainly isn’t *bad.* It’s even above average, in my opinion. It’s twisty and romantic and compelling.
I liked the characters. I especially liked Ellery’s relationship with her mother. So if you want a fun YA mystery, I recommend this one. Don’t expect the moon and you’ll like it just fine.
Okay, I need to preface this by saying my son loved this. He read it with his class in fifth grade, and they worked out the puzzles in the illustrations together, and he ended up asking for a set of pentominoes for his birthday.
So of course, being the middle grade fan that I am, I had to read it. And . . . it wasn’t for me. Too much of the book was one character leaping to an absolutely absurd conclusion, the other character agreeing that of course that must be right, and then it turning out to *be* right. I like a mystery that’s hard but possible to figure out. This just felt like being jerked around.
That said, it’s not exactly a mystery. It’s a puzzle. The whole plot basically sets up the puzzle for the reader. As such, it’s not an especially good plot, though the two main characters are fine enough. But it can be a fun puzzle.
And my son–he of Rubik’s cubes and coding and science fairs–well, he’s a lot like Calder. I can see why he liked this book so much.
Okay, so this is hilarious and delightful. The humor writing is top-notch, not merely zany or crazy like some middle-grade humor but subtle and surprising and *constant*. I mean it. I am in awe of how tightly written this book is.
I loved it as an adult. My third grader loved it. My older boys read it in a day. The first twist isn’t really surprising, but it’s not meant to be. It’s still funny.
Basically, for the uninitiated, the main character moves to Yawnee Valley, a city known mostly for its cows. He was established in the big city as the school prankster, and he hopes to keep that title here, even if he’d rather be anywhere else. But it appears someone else has already claimed the title: he shows up to his first day of school to find that someone has managed to get the principal’s car up the stairs of the school and has blocked the front doors with it.
It’s not really believable. Many of the characters and situations are larger than life. It doesn’t matter.
The illustrations are perfect, and they add to the appeal. But the audiobook is also excellent. I can’t decide which to recommend more. Maybe do both together?
I waffled whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I generally don’t like half stars, but sometimes it’s merited. The thing is, what this book does well, it REALLY does well. And most of the reasons I didn’t rate it higher were personal, not the fault of the author.
I actually bought a hard copy of this book because my library didn’t have it as an audiobook and I wanted to read it so badly I shelled out some of my limited spending money for it when it went on sale. I loved the cover, the title, and the hype it was getting on Twitter. I knew next to nothing about it beyond that.
Here are some of the things it does well:
It depicts mental illness with accuracy and grace. It doesn’t sensationalize it or soften it. The MC’s mother’s schizophrenia is scary and dangerous and sometimes subtle too, and always complex.
It doesn’t present too-simplistic solutions for really hard problems.
It really put me into the setting. The unbearable heat the whole way through was like another character, and I almost felt as if I was sweating, even though I read this in the springtime.
Each relationship was developed gently and organically. The characters felt real.
The prose is gorgeous.
For these reasons, I feel this is an important book. For me personally, sometimes it felt a little . . . cute. And the plot meandered maybe more than I care for. At times I felt slightly bored and unsure where it was going.
But if literary books about important themes are your jam, I’ll bet money you’ll like this one.
Background: When we were in college, Janci and I were in a writing group together briefly. I knew as soon as I read her writing that she was going to be published someday, and I was right! Her debut is good, so maybe you’ll like it too (Chasing the Skip). Just don’t expect a romance.
I’ve been reading Janci’s books ever since. I got this one for Christmas 2017, but since I rarely have time to sit and read, I hadn’t picked it up yet. When I finally had a sick day, I burned through the whole book in less than 24 hours. I was completely hooked. I mean, this character is a MESS. She’s a teen, and she makes VERY BAD DECISIONS for what she thinks are VERY GOOD REASONS, and reading it felt a bit like watching a train wreck, but I couldn’t look away. It was utterly gripping and heartbreaking and deep. My favorite Janci book to date, in other words.
Do note that the main character’s goal is to get pregnant, which obviously involves sex, but it’s not shown on the page.