Monday, June 11, 2012

Middle Grade Monday

What exactly IS middle grade? Both of these books are, even though the represent the extremes. Squish is suitable for 8-11 year olds, although older students might be amused or seek it out as comfort reading, and Rush for the Gold is fine for any readers who can read well enough and have an interest in Olympic swimming, although would be most suitable for ages 12 and up. There is that one big kiss, and any one under the age of 12 would probably go "Ewwwww!" For more middle grade titles, head over to Shannon Whitney Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe to see a list of bloggers with middle grade reviews.

Feinstein, John. Rush for the Gold.
Random House, 22 May 2012
Reviewed for Young Adult Books Central. 

Susan Carol and Stevie are back, and this time Susan Carol is very close to making the Olympic team. She is approached by all sorts of agents and sponsors because she is not only a fantastic swimmer; she is also pretty. Her father is bowing to the pressure for her to wear logos at every interview, which confuses and angers her. Stevie, writing for the Washington newspaper, manages to go to the Olympic trials to be with her (their long distance romance seems to be working better than most), and when she makes the Olympic team, he goes to London as well. While in London, the politics and agent anxiety increase-- Stevie is yelled at for talking to Susan Carol and not getting proper permission to speak to other swimmers. He has to struggle with balancing his reporting with wanting to be with his girlfriend all the time. Susan Carol has to struggle with an increasingly overbearing father who wants her to fire her long time coach because he isn't "big time" enough, and with the pressure to win a gold--so that she can earn the big bucks in sponsorships. When it is clear that another girl, Elizabeth, is a better swimmer but not as pretty and personable as Susan Carol, Susan Carol becomes angry that looks count for so much. Is someone sabotaging Elizabeth because she isn't as attractive? Stevie and Susan Carol are able to use their well-honed investigative skills to figure this out.
Strengths: Even though this book is about a girl, the guys will still pick it up. I was oddly intrigued by all the swimming descriptions as well as the machinations of the agents. Feinstein's background as a sports news writer is always apparent, and that's a good thing when trying to hook reluctant readers. I also liked Susan Carol's ambivalence about her newfound fame.
Weaknesses: While the inclusion of actual athletes as characters will add immediacy to the story now, it will also cause it to date, like Zan Hagen's Marathon. Also, because I am not at all familiar with swimming personalities, I wasn't sure which characters were based on real people and which were purely fictional.

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. The Power of the Parasite.
While Pod and Peggy are off at ballet camp, Squish is stuck at summer swim camp. He doesn't want anything to do with the water after a previous terrible experience, but the conselour is annoyingly perky and keeps encouraging everyone to have "super awesome fun". Luckily, he meets a friend who also doesn't want to swim, Basil, and the two try to avoid swimming and read comic books instead. Squish is also reading about his favorite comic superhero who has taken on a sidekick who has some evil tendencies... just like Basil has a bad habit of using his stingers to inflict pain on unwary suspects. Can Squish survive swim camp? And will Pod manage to open a black hole... with a pirouette?
Strengths: *Snerk* When I took swimming lessons with my brother in 1974, he spent every lesson hiding out in the bathrooms because they were WAY warmer than the northeastern Ohio lake! Squish is a bit anxious (like Mason Dixon), but I find his defensiveness about his fear much more believable that elementary grade neuroses!
Weaknesses: Squish, as well as Dragonbreath, are a bit too young for middle school. They are funny enough, but the small size of the books and the aggressive cartoonishness make the students (even those who want nothing but notebook novels) not want to pick them up. Very sad.


Ruth Donnelly said...

These both sound great, especially Squish. Thanks for the reviews!

Gina C said...

so interesting - i can see kids feeling baby-ish if the book looks like it's below their reading level.

Barbara Watson said...

Books about a girl that a guy will read: so important. Thanks for sharing that view of this book.

My daughter and I heard Jennifer Holm speak in April. She was fun, funny, and so in tune with the kids.

Melanie Conklin said...

It took me a minute to realize that Squish wasn't a boy!

I'm surprised that Rush for the Gold has so much emphasis on a boy/girl relationship. It seems like YA themes are backtracking into MG more and more--there are still some writers who say MG can't have any real relationship stuff, or a kiss of any form.

My first novel was an upper MG, 14 girl protagonist, and it had a good bit of b/g relationship plot. It was interesting to see how my beta readers reacted--half thought it was perfect as upper MG, half thought it had to be YA.

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