Review Detail

Kids Fiction 147
engaging historical fiction with great character-building
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
4.0
THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS follows two young boys in Canada as their lives are changing and intersecting. Benji Alston dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter, and he often thinks in headlines. When he gets an apprenticeship for a paper, he is excited to help and write- but it turns out writing articles is harder than he thought. Luckily, he has the persistence to keep at it. He lives with his parents, brother, and sister, and often explores the woods around where he lives. He navigates them well and as such occasionally spots the so-called Madman of Piney Woods.

Red lives with his father and Irish grandmother, and his inevitable nickname comes from his overall appearance. Red does not really understand his grandmother, but he is willing to try. At the coaching of his father, he asks for her story. Red would love to be a scientist one day. When the two boys meet, they instantly click and a great friendship is born.

When they encounter the proclaimed Madman or lion or whatever he may be in the woods, they are set on a new path- one they could never have expected.

What I loved: This is really a character-driven book, and each of the two boys are strongly crafted. My favorite character was Red's father who has a great deal of wisdom and sage advice for Red, mainly instilling empathy and patience into him. Some of the knowledge he imparts struck me as particularly poignant, and I think such things can be powerful to the reader. There are actually quite a lot of pithy quotes and wisdom to be found in the pages in general (even about the majesty of science and the difficulties in following a dream). All around, these make it a really great read.

The historical context of the book was also really intriguing, and the story told by Red's grandmother about her treacherous journey to Canada was beautifully written and its own captivating story-within-story. She is also, however, a racist, which is generally pointed out and fits the time period but is not conveyed through most other characters.

The book overall does a great job in connecting readers with the characters and imparting messages about empathy, friendship, and passion.

Final verdict: This is an engaging middle grade historical fiction that pulls you into the lives of Benji and Red, two Canadian boys with big dreams. Highly recommend for anyone who loves historical fiction, mischievous boys, and fantastic character-building.
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