YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Wonderful Feels Like This…

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Now if you’re one of those people who roll their eyes when they hear YA slapped in front of a contemporary novel, you can happily give your eyes a rest today because Wonderful Feels Like This by Swedish author Sara Lovestam could quite easily be classed as adult fiction given the fact that one of the main characters is an octogenarian.  Also, it’s about historical jazz music.  And World War II.

We received a copy of Wonderful Feels Like This from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She’s never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she’s viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music–especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar’s escape is music–especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won’t always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi’s school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi’s worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

wonderful feels like this

Wonderful Feels Like This is a delightful blend of historical fiction and contemporary coming of age story.  Steffi, in grade nine at the local school, is bullied relentlessly by her peers and has no friends to speak of.  Alvar, an octogenarian in an old folk’s home located on the route of Steffi’s walk home, is a musician whose body may be frail but whose heart and mind have never lost their passion for jazz.  When Steffi stops to chat to Alvar after hearing 1940s jazz music wafting out his window, it is the beginning of a friendship that will change both their lives and cement the bond that began with a few bars of swing.

What an intriguing read this book is!  Firstly, it’s set in Sweden – a country that I know very little about, barring IKEA and…IKEA. Oh, and ABBA.  Secondly, it’s told from alternating historical perspectives – Steffi and Alvar in the present and Alvar as a young man in 1940s Stockholm, overshadowed by the war.  I loved the information that was woven in about the political situation of Sweden and its neighbours during World War II because (a) I’m a big nerd and (b) I’ve never encountered a WWII story told from this perspective before so it was great to add to my general knowledge here.  Finally, the characters are beautifully authentic and the author hasn’t resorted to YA tropes in Steffi’s sections of the story, as could so easily have been the case given the theme of bullying.  Steffi is given equal footing with Alvar as a rounded, developed person, rather than reduced to a teen girl with certain musical hobbies and a low social standing.

Steffi’s biggest tormentors, Karro and Sanja, are merciless in their harassment, never shying away from an opportunity – be it in person or online – to denigrate Steffi and spit vitriol and humiliation in her general direction. Steffi’s lack of friends her own age lends a certain sadness to the atmosphere of her parts of the story, although it is obvious that she is determined to remain faithful to her passions and dreams for her future, in spite of the unprovoked persecution that is constantly heaped upon her.

Alvar, appearing to the reader simultaneously as a bright light of the rest home and a nervous, uncertain young man making his way in a big city in a time of social upheaval, provides the anchor for Steffi’s unsettled school experiences.  Through Alvar’s narration of his youth, Steffi begins to draw strength and confidence and understands that the path to success rarely runs smooth.

I loved that the author left the bullying element of Steffi’s story fairly unresolved.  This felt particularly authentic to me because in many people’s experience, there is no intervention or specific incident that causes the bullying to stop, rather circumstances, or physical distance mean that access to the victim by the bully is somehow cut off. This seems to be the case at the end of the book and although it’s possible – likely even – that Steffi’s tormentors may have continued their harassment after the end of the story that we see here, there is hope for Steffi and the promise of new and true friends.

In fact, one of my favourite parts of the book comes in the last paragraph of the author’s acknowledgements, where Lovestam writes:

Thank you, children and teenagers, sitting in schools all over the world, thinking about chords, shading, pi, medieval aesthetics, adverbs, metaphysics, Neanderthals, lace-making, chromatics,  and making flambes, instead of letting schoolyard pecking orders get to you.  Your time will come.

That is essentially what this story is about: having one’s time and following one’s passion – the precursor to it, the attainment of it, the living through it and the satisfied reflection on it after a life well-lived.

I’ll be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under category #26: a book by an author from a country you’ve never visited.  Sweden (and Scandinavia generally, you’re on the bucket list).  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Maniacal Book Club Review (with Extra Gargoyle!): Stonebird….and a Giveaway!

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Welcome one and all to an extra gargoyley Maniacal Book Club review….and GIVEAWAY…for those living in Australia. Sorry everyone else, although I will have an international giveaway kicking off on Friday, so don’t feel too left out. I received a copy of today’s book from its lovely author, Mike Revell, who, on hearing of our stony nature here at the shelf, sent us a SIGNED ARC copy of his debut middle grade, UK fiction novel, Stonebird. Thanks Mr Mike!

For those wishing to enter the giveaway, the link is below the Club’s review. But I won’t keep everyone else waiting, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When eleven-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his grandma, he’s thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart. Liam doesn’t remember what Grandma was like before she became ill with dementia. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He desperately wants to make everything better, but he can’t. Escaping the house one evening, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam’s stories. And stories can be dangerous things . . . But Grandma’s illness is getting worse, Liam’s mum isn’t coping, and his sister is skipping school. What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam’s family?

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Let’s hear from the Book Club!

Guru Dave  maniacal book club guru dave

So many lessons to be learned from the lonely child and the reclusive gargoyle! Can we ever be truly ourselves when we rely on another to fight our battles? To whom can one turn when one feels alone in a sea of hostility and confusion? What hope do we have when our parents need parenting? So many good hearts lost in the dark, wandering the alleyways of sorrow and grief and anger. And over them all watches a creature from another world, a warm heart beating in a chest of stone.

 

 

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. But there is a huge gargoyle, way bigger than Bruce and Guru Dave and he’s got red eyes and claws and everything! He’s like a protector guardian but he can get really scary too and if you cross Liam, Stonebird might chase you down and eat you! Well, maybe not eat you, but scratch you or something. There’s a cool dog in this book too – Liam’s dog, Jess. And there are some bullies who are really nasty – I wanted Stonebird to eat them. But he doesn’t. It was okay that there wasn’t a dragon in this book because Stonebird was just as cool as a dragon.

 

Mad Martha  maniacal book club martha

If you possessed a magic egg

what magic would it do?

Could your special magic egg

Your errors all undo?

Or would you use it just for good

and help those close to you?

Perhaps your enemies you’d smite

Your tormentors, subdue.

The choice is yours, and so ensure

You stop and think this through:

If you possessed a magic egg,

What magic would it do?

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I must start off by saying that Stonebird is a handsome old brute! Obviously, as a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I am of a different family of stone creature than Stonebird, but I do envy his stately proportions and ability to perch regally on rooftops. That aside, it was wonderful to read another book wherein my kin are central to the story. There are so few around and I’m not sure why, for we provide so much atmosphere and gravitas. But I digress.

Stonebird is of that exciting category of books that feature important and difficult subjects pitched at just the right level for a middle grade audience. In this particular case, Revell touches on dementia and the experience of grief, loss and confusion that can envelop those close to the sufferer even while the sufferer is still alive; bullying, its effects and possible causes; parenting, and the effects of prolonged stress on a parent’s ability to relate to their children; among other things. There is a lot going on here besides an exciting fantasy tale about a gargoyle who can protect a boy with the help of a possibly magical egg.

I’m going to mark this one down as magical realism, rather than fantasy, because while there are obviously fantastical elements, the focus of this book is the authentic portrayal of a young lad trying to solve problems that are beyond his age and ken. This could have been a great, engaging and thought-provoking read even without the addition of a (handsome, powerful) member of my species, but the magical elements provide the cherry on top of the icing on a cake of quality reading.

As the main character is male, and there is a significant plotline of boy-to-boy bullying running through Liam’s story arc, I am certain this will appeal to young male readers, while young female readers will be drawn in by the inclusion of a storyline relating to Liam’s grandmother in her early teen years. As a considerable amount of the story takes place in the classroom, this would also be a fantastically engaging pick as a class read-aloud for around grades five to seven.

If you only read one book featuring a strong, silent, gargoyley type this year, make it this one!

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Six thumbs up! (Guru Dave and I gave it two thumbs each…)

Now, for the giveaway! If you are an Australian resident, you are welcome to enter to win a paperback copy of Stonebird by Mike Revell. Just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

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Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

An Indie, MG Maniacal Book Club Review: Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang…

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Today’s pick from the Maniacal Book Club features a Korean main character, some American bullying and some all-out, strange, generational magic. We received a copy of Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang, the first in an indie series for middle grade readers, from the author, Tim Learn, for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chewy Noh has problems. He was born with them. Two weeks after his birth, the family fortune-teller saw bad things in his future…and she was right. The school bully hates him and will stop at nothing to get rid of him. His mother suddenly can’t get out of bed, complaining of horrible headaches. And worst of all, the secret his grandmother is hiding may be at the root of it all. But why should he worry? He’s a superhero with a power no one’s ever seen before!

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Let’s hear what the Book Club have to say, shall we?

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

While many have sought my wise counsel over my many years of existence, I have never been fortunate enough to wield powers like those of the Mu-dang. In this tale, Chewy takes on the power of an ancient spirit and finds the power within himself to change the course of his existence. But is a young boy worthy of such knowledge, such advantage? I would urge caution and prudence should you ever come into a magically-rendered gift of your own, thoughtful reader.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There’s some pretty cool witchy stuff though and a whole bunch of people who aren’t really what they seem. I didn’t like the bullies – I wouldn’t mind if they got eaten by a dragon. And the girls were a bit weird too. But Chewy and Clint were pretty cool. Ordinary, but cool. It would have been better if there were dragons. To eat the bullies.

 

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

When selecting a secret new power

Be prepared for your gift to turn sour

For with greatest intentions

Magic interventions,

Your best laid of plans, can devour

maniacal book club bruce Bruce

Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang is going to greatly appeal to those young readers looking for something a little different. For a start, Chewy himself is Korean, an ethnicity we don’t often see in middle-grade books and the author has included a host of interesting mythology and magic narrative from that part of the world. Secondly, this isn’t the expected sort of superhero book, where the main character suddenly sprouts an obvious and visible power and has to decide how to wield it.

Chewy is a laid-back every-man sort of a kid and his power is just as understated as he is. Because of this, the story follows the common, new-kid-being-picked-on plot line, with some superpowered antics thrown in. Having said that, the book does have a few features that make it stand out from the norm. There are the references to the Mu-Dang and the storyline related to Chewy’s family and secrets that have been kept that could change who Chewy is and how he thinks about his family. There’s also the fact that Chewy and Clint, although experiencing bullying, are more curious than vengeful toward their bullies’ behaviour.

I did have a few problems with the story. While I enjoyed the supernatural bits, the other parts – in which Chewy and Clint form a friendship and deal with the bullies – was pretty run-of-the-mill. I would have loved to have seen more focus on the magical side of the story. A plotline involving two girls in Chewy’s class also muddied the waters as it just seemed to range all over the place. I couldn’t follow why the girls were behaving as they were or what their motivations might have been and the whole plot line seemed tacked on and superfluous.

Also interrupting my enjoyment of the story was the bugbear of many an indie publication – a lack of hard-core editing. I found that the overall narration lacked a clear voice and that there was far too much unnecessary dialogue and description of mundane things as a result. I had that uncanny feeling that I’ve had before while reading indie works, that I was actually reading a translation, because the words don’t flow as well as one would expect.

Overall, this would be a good pick for middle-graders looking for some diversity in the characters that they are reading about and for those who want an unexpected twist on the superhero genre.

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Three Thumbs Up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

A Ripping, YA Read-it-if Review: Boo…

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Today’s Read-it-if Review book, I am pleased to announce, has made it onto both my “Top Books of 2015 (so far)” list (which currently only has two other listings) as well as….drum roll please….my Goodreads Favourites list!

*spontaneous applause*

I should probably warn you then that this review WILL include gushing praise.

Today’s book is Boo by Neil Smith. I received a copy of this YA book – which I think is actually adult fiction cleverly disguised as YA – from the publishers via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a ‘gommer’, a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from the volatile Johnny, a classmate killed at the same school, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives. In a heartrending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.

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Read it if:

*you like books that feature diverse characters. Even if they’re dead.

*you are either (a) energised or (b) repulsed by the thought of being stuck as a 13-year-old in the afterlife

*you’ve ever been part of a chanting mob

*you like nothing more than discovering something curious turning up in an unexpected place

Now on to the gushing praise!

I have not experienced the kind of satisfaction that I felt on finishing Boo in a long, long time. Here, thought I, is a perfectly constructed tale that is expertly paced, filled with authentic characters, and can be appreciated by those well beyond the YA age-range at which it is marketed. I picked up Boo thinking it would be a reasonably quirky take on the paranormal, life-after-death plot that I generally enjoy, but Smith has created much more than just a fun, creative read here.

For a start, the afterlife that he has created is both expansive and perfectly contained, as well as being pretty original. For in the afterlife in which Boo finds himself, all the residents are 13 years old – the age at which they died. Some died years ago and some are “newborns” like Boo, but all can expect (barring a few exceptional cases) to hang around “Town” as they call it for approximately 50 years, before disappearing into Zig-knows-where. The concept of “Town” reminded me strongly of Neal Shusterman’s afterlife in the Skinjacker series that begins with Everlost. While the similarities are there, Smith’s afterlife doesn’t have the menacing, mysterious undertones of Shusterman’s post-death experience, and feels like a place in which all things have the potential to be made right.

The characters here are diverse (in ethnicity, ability and personality) and felt particularly authentic to me as an adult reader. All of the four main characters have their flaws but come across as complex and layered. I admit to having a soft spot for Esther, the young lass with dwarfism who is applying to be a do-gooder but can sling a stinging one-liner with the best of them. Boo is also a delightful narrator and it didn’t take long for me to relax into his easy narration.

The highlight of the story for me was the depth to which Smith is prepared to take young readers as the narrative unfolds and the events surrounding their untimely deaths are brought to light in Boo and Johnny’s memories. There are twists in this tale, but it didn’t feel like they were thrown in to shock, but to provoke thought from the reader. As these plot twists are revealed I was more and more impressed with the way the author constructed the story. This could have so easily been a two-dimensional, didactic tale in which certain characters were labelled goodies and baddies, but Smith has taken his characters far more seriously than that. The sensitivity with which the boys’ story is rendered was simply a joy to behold.

If you’re looking for a YA read that is, in my opinion, above the common herd, then you should make a point to search out Boo. I will certainly be making it my mission to collect it in print for my shelf.

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA (ish) Read-it-if Review: Hyacinth Girls…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if review for a book that has been on my Netgalley shelf for months and months and months that I’ve only just managed to get to.  Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel, like The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, is one that I put off and put off because its publication date was so far off, only to find that I should have picked it up sooner because it is well worth chatting about.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she’s raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She’ll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.

This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of adolescent emotions and the complex identity of a teenage girl looks unflinchingly at how cruelty exists in all of us, and how our worst impulses can estrange us from ourselves – or even save us.

hyacinth girls

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been given a demeaning nickname

*you like adult fiction that is cleverly disguised as young adult fiction

*you’ve been clamouring for a book featuring young people and bullying, in which the characters are more than stereotypical, paper-thin, mean girls, and the adults have backstories too

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge how unexpectedly noteworthy I found this story to be. When I flicked back to the blurb and found out that this was a “teen bullying” story I was preparing myself for the run-of-the-mill, mean girls scenario with cliques and rich bitches and everything we’ve seen before in a thousand movies and books. While the blurb gives the indication that this is a YA book, I think that this is actually properly realised adult fiction that features young characters and bullying, but focuses on deeper explorations of the characters, their motivations and relationships. [Interjection: Yes, I realise YA is “proper fiction” too, so no need to send the hate mail just yet]. I suspect that adult readers will get just as much out of this, if not more, than their teenaged counterparts and that is the mark of a good book all-round.

Hyacinth Girls is told in alternating points of view, beginning with that of Rebecca, who has become the guardian of teenager Callie after her mother, Joyce (Rebecca’s childhood best friend), was killed in an accident and her father committed suicide. The early parts of the story focus on Rebecca’s shock and denial when informed that Callie has been involved in serious bullying of a classmate. The story moves back and forth between the present day, as Rebecca tries her darnedest to clear Callie’s name, and Rebecca’s childhood with Joyce, her older cousin and his girlfriend.

About halfway through the book, the story switches to Callie’s point of view and the reader becomes privy to the “other side of the story” as it were. It isn’t too hard to see that Rebecca suffers from a sort of functional blindness toward Callie’s alleged behaviour and sharp readers will be pleased to note that their suspicions are confirmed in Callie’s telling of the story. Toward the end of the book, the perspectives change again as events come to a head and secrets and lies come back to haunt all the characters.

What I most appreciated about this story is that the characters are all deeply fleshed out. Each character has flaws and a back story and motives that are understandable and familiar, but not stereotypical. The book really explores the concepts of error and redemption through characters who are judged outwardly by their actions and characters for whom the judgement (and damnation) is self-wrought and internal. Hyacinth Girls manages to set itself apart from the crowd of “seen-it-all-before” books on bullying to really explore the people who engage in it, the people who fight against it and the people who unwittingly support it. I particularly appreciated the realistic fallout (or lack thereof) at the very end of the book, when the reader gets to reflect on the tumultuous events of the story and their impact on the lives of the characters in the context of a wider society of those who don’t have a personal stake in the lives of these particular young people.

Overall I think that aside from being a “bullying” book, Hyacinth Girls is just a really absorbing read.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Dinosaur Boy: An MG Read-it-if Review…

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If you are looking for a a very earthly sci-fi, friendship, foiling-an-evil-villain-while-embracing-vegetarianism tale for a middle grade audience, then today is your lucky day!  Today I have Dinosaur Boy by Corey Putmun Oakes, a fairly wacky story about championing your true self when the going gets tough.  Engage eyeball thrusters! Launch review!

Sawyer is enjoying his summer holiday before entering 5th grade when he unexpectedly sprouts bony plates and a tail.  Well, it isn’t entirely unexpected – Sawyer’s grandfather was part Stegosaurus and it is obvious that Sawyer has also inherited the family dinsosaur gene.  As if being a fifth grader wasn’t tough enough, Sawyer now has to contend with the stares and taunts of his classmates and only has his vertically-advantaged friend Elliot, and weird new girl Sylvie, to hang out with.

When Principal Mathis instigates a tough new zero-tolerance policy on bullying in the school, Sawyer’s tormentors begin to disapper, one by one.  Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Sawyer, Elliot and Sylvie investigate and uncover a shocking secret that goes all the way to the top.  But can the intrepid trio keep themselves out of trouble or will they too fall victim to the nefarious plot?

DINOSAUR-BOY-COVER-227x300Read it if:

* you’ve ever been required to protect the safety of others by attaching tennis balls to any part of your anatomy

* you see nothing wrong with changing your appearance – even if it involves modifying your existing clothing to accommodate extra extremeties

* you like your middle grade fiction to contain at least one hybrid gene

Dinosaur Boy was a really strange creature in my opinion.  It’s a little bit of a triumphing over the bullies tale.  It’s got definite sci-fi elements.  There’s a theme about being yourself running throughout.  It’s got a bit of a detective vibe to it.  So really, you could either take the tack that this book has got something for everyone….or say that this book didn’t really know what it was trying to be.

By the end of the tale, I was fairly convinced that the author had settled on this being a story that would (in the next book in the series, at least) stake its claim in sci-fi territory, but up until then I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.

Sawyer is a bit of an “everyman” character (despite the plates and tale) – he’s likeable, generally average, a good friend, and an authentic representation of a boy of his age trying to get along in life while everyone else seems to have it out for him.  I enjoyed the contrast that was set up early on, between Sawyer’s tentative delight and curiosity at developing the family mutation, and his subsequent shame and confusion as he endures the slings and arrows of classmates that seem to have nothing better to do than pick on the kid who looks a little bit different.

The narrative comes together in the end, despite some very odd plot twists, and overall, I did enjoy the story.  I would have loved to have seen more made of the whole “dinosaur-gene” and how it came to be.  The author focuses on this a little at the start of the book and then it sort of falls by the wayside as the plot twists are revealed.  I’m not sure that this will bother middle-grade readers particularly, but I wanted more than just a cursory explanation for why the main character needed to be part-dinosaur.

This certainly wasn’t anything spectacular from my point of view.  I suspect it will make a nice addition to the “Wimpy Kid” area of the library and will garner some laughs from the target audience, but I felt that the world building was a little lacking here and as the second book seems to be taking things off-planet, I would have preferred a stronger foundation to be built on familiar terra firma first.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Poetical Read-it-If Review: Rhyme Schemer…

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Are you the kind of reader that loves it when an author tries something a little bit different…and NAILS it? Me too.  Happily, today’s offering is from an author that does just that.  Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt is a verse novel for a middle grade audience, so I suspected when I requested it for review that I would probably enjoy it.  What did surprise me was the way that Holt has managed to create a clever, funny and sensitive novel that hits all the right notes and authentically portrays the troubles and triumphs of a young lad who is considered to be a bit of a ne’er-do-well.  So, in fact, I ended up loving it. Hurrah!

If you were to describe Kevin as a class bully, you would not be too far off the mark.  Kevin has a reputation for being the kind of guy who might hide all your pencils.  And then politely inform you that your pencils are missing.  And then laugh at you.  Kevin also has four older brothers and two parents who don’t have a lot of time for him.  Kevin also has a particular skill in manipulating pages in classic children’s stories and posting them around the school.  But when a classmate discovers Kevin’s love of poetry, he suddenly realises how much of an impact words can have on other people.  Is it too late for Kevin to redeem himself? Or is he going to be stuck as the villain of the story forever?

rhyme schemerRead it if:

*you’ve ever thought that many classic children’s books could do with a cheeky, handwritten makeover

*you’ve ever felt like the smallest fish in a very large pond…comprised mostly of annoying brother fish

*you’ve ever had a secret passion for something that might be considered a bit embarrassing were it to be revealed in public

*you’re looking for a book with an authentic male protagonist that features poetry in a clever and very engaging way

As someone who enjoys the odd bit of poetry (and a bit of odd poetry) this book could not have been more perfect.  It is a super-quick read – I think I read it in two sittings, but could easily have managed it in one – and has a storyline that had me glued to the pages.  The book opens with Kevin revealing that he is the mastermind behind a spate of guerilla-poetry attacks, in which pages torn from classic children’s books have been manipulated with pencil to create funny new poems and stuck up around his school.  If you can’t imagine what I mean, here’s a handy illustration from the book to demonstrate:

 

rhyme schemer illustration example

 

Kevin is a self-proclaimed bully who seems to take great delight in humiliating others, but as we move deeper into Kevin’s journal, we quickly discover that he has family problems that may account, in some part, for his less-than-kind behaviour towards his classmates.  It’s really hard to dislike Kevin though, as his voice is at once self-promoting and self-deprecating – he knows that his behaviour is not winning him friends, but he also seems to know that he has a gift that might open up some opportunities for him if he can keep out of trouble.

This is an ingenious new take on the moving-into-the-teenage-years style of story that will most definitely appeal to kids in the target age group because of the style of humour and excellent characterisation.  I suspect this will also appeal to those with a subversive streak (including, but not limited to, reluctant readers and those who like to deface library books), and those who are just looking for a familiar story of friendship and personal growth told in a fun, accessible fashion.

Actually, writing this review has done two things: it’s encouraged me to pick up That Shakespeare Kid, another verse novel that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for at least six months, and it’s also reminded me to put Rhyme Schemer on my Christmas list. Because now I wish to own it in print, not least because it features the funniest collections on the subject of the school principal’s tie ever written.

Until next time,

Bruce

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