by Paul Griffin
First sentence: “You’d have to be nuts to trust a magician.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s not a difficult read, and there’s nothing objectionable, but the subject matter is probably more serious than your average 8- or 9-year-old will want. That said, if they’re interested, I’d give it to them. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Ben has had a rough life. He was dropped off at a group home when he was a baby, abandoned by his mother. He made friends, but one of them died after an accident. That lead to him meeting a social worker, an older woman whose partner had died, and him being adopted by her. Everything was looking up, especially after he found a stray dog (who ended up being the dog of a woman who had recently become homeless) and met a new friend, Halley, who is in remission from a rare cancer.
If you’ve read ANY middle grade/YA books, you know where this one is headed.
On some level, I wanted to be annoyed with this book. I felt like Griffin employed every single cliche out there: Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Dead Parents, Bad Parents, Cancer Book, it’s all in there. I wanted to be annoyed at it. I was a little frustrated when I realized the direction it was taken. But… I didn’t hate it. I didn’t.
Partially, it’s because it’s self-aware. There’s one quote, early on when Ben and Halley are talking about a story they’re writing, where Halley says, “Well, you have to get rid of [parents] somehow, and that is the most merciful yet expeditious way. Otherwise how do you turn her into an orphan? This is a middle grade story, for like ages ten to fourteen, and the rule is you need an orphan.”
I laughed, and as the book went on, I realized that Griffin knew what he was doing. He was Making Points, but subtly, and I didn’t hate him for his messages. I liked Ben and Halley and Flip the dog, among other characters, so I could get past the messages. And even though I wasn’t Moved by the book, I did enjoy reading the stories. And it was, in fact, written well.
So, I’m torn. I didn’t Love it like I wanted, but I didn’t loathe it either.