Review Detail

Kids Fiction 281
Beta Reader Adventures
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
When Alex Harmon's aunt Caroline asks him to read her book, Gerald Visits Grandpa, he isn't thrilled about reading a book about two frogs, but pleased that his aunt asks for input. He has a red pen to annotate the boring parts... but most of the book is boring! The big excitement is a prize winning zucchini. Alex, along with his friend Javier and his cousin Marta, take their assignment to improve the book seriously, and are soon doing a lot of test stunts to up the excitement in the book. Some of these include climbing out of a window and down a trellis, simulating flying with a harness and a leaf blower, and sneaking into a creepy house. To be fair, the Old Weintraub Place isn't that creepy, and Alex doesn't even have to break in; his mother had a key so she could check on the former occupant. However, when the kids are visiting one time, there is a cup of fresh and warm coffee left on the counter, and they wonder if there is a ghost. If there is, this ghost is well read and has some great ideas for the story, some gleaned from boxes of speculative fiction books in the basement. Even though Alex isn't a fan of books and would rather run, he puts in a lot of effort to improve the story, which soon involves the grandfather having magical powers, alternate realities, and eventually, a massive battle against goblins! Even Alex's annoying younger brother Alvin gets involved. Because he doesn't have grandparents of his own, Alex goes to the local senior center to get input from the older people there, picking up on their speech patterns, and also enjoying some chocolate chip cookies. His aunt wants to get the book done before her wife has their baby, and has gotten a lot of positive feedback about Alex's changes from her agent, but she still has some doubts about just how exciting the book should be. Alex and his friends go to a lot of trouble to work out an important plot point and sell their ending to his aunt, and get help from an unlikely source.
Good Points
Middle grade readers are often not empowered. Everyone tells them what to do, and they don't get to call the shots. Normally, novel writers try to compensate for this by killing the parents and requiring the children to save the world. This is much more realistic-- Alex is given agency to inform his aunt's writing, and she actually listens to him. I'd love to see more books about tweens who are given control over some small aspect of their world. The characters are all engaging and well drawn; Alvin is especially interesting. I thought he would be obnoxious, but he isn't. Marta and her love of stunts is fun, and I did appreciate that the kids weren't reckless with what the attempted to do. The discussion of whether or not to call 911 was brilliant, and also was crucial when something more serious occurred. I loved all of the thought that went into creating the aunt's book. I'd love to see more authors actually run their books by actual children!

While this read quickly and I enjoyed it, the story rather neglected its own guidelines and there are not as many explosions as there could have been. There are enough stunts (safely done) to keep readers interested, though, and I did like the twist about the identity of the ghost!

This went really quickly, was funny, and is an interesting observation about the writing process. Definitely purchasing, and the cover is brilliant. It's going to have a very visceral pull to any tween who has ever read a Dr. Seuss book! This probably should be the default font on all middle grade books! An amazing debut.
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