Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 69
Realistic Problems Students Face
Overall rating
 
4.3
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
5.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
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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