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.
I love when reading a middle grade novel feels like hanging out with real kids. I love when middle grade is funny and heartfelt and earnest and exciting. This one ticked all the boxes for me. I didn’t miss that this is the second book by Rebecca Stead that I loved, and I noticed after reading that Wendy Mass is the author of a book my oldest son loved and read twice. I guess that’s going on my to-read list! This book would be appropriate for pretty much any kid old enough to listen to a novel.
This book surprised me. In some ways it feels familiar (court intrigue, forbidden romance, evil empire vs. rebellion), what’s really great about it is what it says about colonialism (the setting is based on historical Morocco) and the complex characters who fill the two starring roles. Maram is the cold, cruel princess, and Amani is her slave/body double. Despite the princess, the balls, etc., this is actually a space opera, not a fantasy. The story sizzles as Maram and Amani get gradually more familiar with one another and realize that things are not as simple as they seemed at first. The romance beween Maram and Amani’s fiance is well done also. I enjoyed the difficult decisions Amani was forced to make over the course of the book and the way the book made me think. Recommended.