Joey is a wired kid, just like his dad and his grandma. He can’t sit still or pay attention very well, unless his meds happen to work that day. Joey had been living with his grandma, because his mom was off looking for his dad, but mom has just returned so grandma leaves. Joey and his mom are now struggling to get him through his 4th grade year without too many freakouts or injuries. After an accident with scissors results in Joey injuring another student (not just himself), he is made to go to a special education center to try to adjust.
The story is told as a first person narrative which really makes it easy to get Joey’s scatterbrained thought processes, and the logic he uses to justify his strange choices. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by the author. He has a great sardonic tone that works really well for Joey who often responds to teacher’s math questions with “can I get back you to on that?” Definitely a really fun book for middle grade readers, especially for any kid dealing with ADHD, either their own or a friend’s.
(Look, we’re 10.5/12 months through the year and I’m 1/3 done with this. Yikes.)
Isn’t the life you lead in your head way better than the one you actually have? Yeah, me too. And the same is true for Junebug, the twelve year old stagehand and gofer at her parents’ summer stock theater. In her head, she’s destined for stage stardom, in reality, she’s the thunder at the top of The Tempest and doing all the chores her ingenue older sister should be sharing with her. And to top it off, her mom has moved out for the summer and she’s not really sure why. And to extra top it off, she gets a helper in the form of a new boy in town who she nicknames Thespis for his propensity to just spout out theater facts.
This is a sweet and funny story about a girl trying to figure out where she belongs and a good treatment of Asperger Syndrome (turns out that’s why Thespis does what he does). There have been quite a few Autism/Asperger books lately, most of which seem to be from the perspective of the kid who has that diagnosis (Marcelo and the Real World, Mockingbird, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Anything But Typical). Here, the narrator is the neurotypical one figuring out how to treat someone who is different. It’s an especially hard realization for her when she figures out that she has been mean, because she is usually the one getting treated poorly for being different.
Some of the secondary characters (gay costumer, secretly bitchy while surface nice actress) are a little flat, but who says you can’t make a good plot with some stock characters?
I’m totally in awe of Brian Selznick’s pencil drawing ability. He can put so much detail and emotion into just black and white and shades of gray, and as much as it suited the olde-tymey Paris of Hugo Cabret, it does an even better job in his new book, Wonderstruck.
In Hugo Cabret, the narrative wound back and forth between the words and pictures, pretty much always focused on Hugo. In Wonderstruck, the words belong to Ben and the pictures to Rose, though their stories to meet eventually. In 1977 northern Minnesota, Ben has lost his mother to a car accident and the hearing in his good ear to lightning. He’s being haunted by the same dream of wolves, night after night. When he finds a book about the Museum of Natural History in New York City among his mother’s things, he leaves Gunflint Lake in search of the father he’s never known.
Rose is in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. She is also deaf, keeps a scrapbook of a famous actress and sends a paper boat floating down a stream bearing the words “help me.” A newspaper headline sends her into the city too, looking for something she’s desperate to find.
The third main character in this book is the Museum itself–its origins in “Cabinets of Wonder” inform both Rose and Ben’s searches and it’s an important place for both of their timelines. You see the exhibits in Rose’s story and learn about their creation in Ben’s.
The separation of narratives between words and pictures makes both stronger. Both are filled with emotion, but the reader has to make different kinds of inferences for the two different storytelling media, and that exercises more brain parts and gets the reader more involved. The specific historical placement in 1927 is much more important to the actual events in Rose’s world, especially the advent of talkies which destroyed one of the only places deaf and hearing people had the same experiences and contributes to Rose’s isolation and fear. Ben’s story doesn’t really have a lot to do with anything specific to 1977, but that doesn’t really hurt anything.
A very enjoyable story, plus, the fastest 637 pages you’ll ever read.
Whatever review I read positioned this book a possibility for “the next Harry Potter,” something no one should probably ever do, because how can anything be the next Harry Potter? It’ll be hard for anything ever to compare with over $500mil in book sales, and well over a billion dollars for the movie franchise. Plus, from a storytelling standpoint, it’s a very tall order for anyone to live up to the complete world building and beloved characters created by JK Rowling. So, unreasonable expectations aside, what does John Stephens give us in book one of his Books of Beginning trilogy?
He gives us a trio of siblings, Kate, Michael and Emma, whose parents disappeared 10 years before we meet them. Since then, they’ve skipped from orphanage to orphanage. Kate is the only one who remembers them, and she’s the leader and the one who keeps her two younger siblings in line. Michael is the middle child, and unlike a typical middle child, is nerdy, wears glasses and obsesses with dwarves. Baby sister Emma is the spitfire, ready to take on everyone around her. The trio are unable to get themselves adopted by a swan-obsessed rich woman, so they are sent to an orphanage in a town no one’s ever heard of.
There, the orphanage appears to be abandoned except for a cranky, old cook/housekeeper and a lanky man of all work. Then they find the proprietor Dr. Pym’s old study, or something, in the basement of the house. In the study, they find an old book with blank pages. Touching an old photograph to a page of the book transports them through time to when the old house was inhabited by an evil countess who has taken the children of the village captive, forcing their fathers to dig in the mines under the town and leaving the mothers alone.
Aside from what feel like flat (or at least unexplained so far) secondary characters, it’s an interesting story and I’ll be interested to see where Stephens takes the next two books in the trilogy. Probably not the next Harry Potter, but enjoyable anyway.