Operation Final Notice

Operation Final Notice
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Release Date
November 08, 2022
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Told in alternating points of view, this middle grade novel, following best friends Ronny and Jo, is about anxiety, being in over your head, and learning to accept help—even if you don’t know how to ask

Eight hundred seventy-eight dollars. That’s how much Ronny needs by January 4th to make to keep his family’s only car from getting repossessed. Since a workplace injury disabled his dad and forced the family to move from their home into the apartment complex across the street, Ronny’s been learning all sorts of things—like what letters marked with Final Notice means and that banks can take cars away for being behind on payments.
His best friend Josefina Ramos is also counting down until the start of January when her life could change forever—that’s when she has her big cello audition at the prestigious music academy Maple Hill. Except she can’t play a solo performance without something disastrous happening and no one seems to hear her when she talks about how nervous she is.
As the countdown to the new year rolls ahead, Ronny and Jo learn what can happen to best-laid plans and how to depend on one another and their community when things get tough.

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Ronny and Jo are neighbors and friends, and both are facing challenges. Ronny's father has hurt his back on the job, and his parents are struggling financially. They've moved into an apartment complex near their former house. Jo Ramos is an excellent cello player who has been given an audition at the Maple Hill School, but she doesn't want to tell Ronny she might be leaving their school, and is terrified of playing in public. They are both in seventh grade, and generally like school and their teachers, especially Ms. Q., who is helpful and understanding. When Ronny sees a bill marked "final notice" at home, he's not sure what this means, but eventually figures out that if his parents don't pay almost $600, their care might be taken away. When he sees a neighbor's car being towed, his fears are reinforced, and he even gives the tow truck driver a hard time. He starts to concoct a lot of money making schemes, some of which involve the Manor, a senior residence at which he and Jo are working. In addition to the $500 the two are being paid to help out and for Jo to play her cello, he tries to sell chocolate bars at a markup to the residents. (Bad idea... too many are diabetic!) He finds a wheeled cart and helps people carry itens home, shovels snow, and does whatever odd jobs he can to earn a little cash in order to help out his parents. Meanwhile, Jo is coming to terms with her performance anxiety and learning some coping strategies. She starts out performing over the loudspeaker after a less than stellar performance, and manages to come to terms with playing in public. When the two are in a fender bender with Ronny's mom, they aren't hurt, but Jo's cello is damaged. Her parents can afford to pay for repairs, but not before the audition. Will Ronny's earnings be necessary to help his friend out? What effect will that have on his family's future?
Good Points
It seems to me that there should be a LOT more books about tweens wanting to earn money. Even if families are not in dire financial circumstances, there are always some incidental expenses like dance tickets, coveted items of clothing, or lost textbooks (my daughter walked a neighbor's dog to pay for a science one!) that tweens' parents might not want to fund. Ronny's attempts at gaining cash are perfect, especially since he runs into plenty of difficulty. This also makes for some gentle humor, and paints a very realistic picture of his life. The author has a note in the back of the book that the setting is very close to the one where his students live, and they are able to walk to all of the places mentioned. I'm a sucker for tweens and senior facilities, and seeing Ronny and Jo try to deal with the difficult and bitter Maureen is heartwarming. Jo's anxiety is also nicely portrayed, and her path to the audition is not a smooth one. The families make just enough of an appearance without overwhelming the agency of our characters, and there are some great teachers as well. The small arc with Ronny and the tow truck driver was thought provoking and would make for excellent class discussions. While I adored The Not-So-Private Letters of Private Nobody and enjoyed It's the End of the World as We Know It, I think Operation Final Notice shows that Landis also understand the type of books that actual middle grade readers want. Definitely an essential purchase for middle school libraries, and this will circulate nonstop.

This would make a great core novel for class study, and would be fantastic to compare to O. Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi (if classes still read that!). It's a great book for showing how readers' classmates might be struggling with issues that aren't easy to see on the surface. Sonnenblick's The Secret Sherrif of Sixth Grade, Baptist's Isaiah Dunn is My Hero, Torres' The Fresh New Face of Griselda, and Messner's The Exact Location of Home would be great books to recommend along with this one.
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