Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid

Meloy, Colin. The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
October 24th 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In 1961, Charlie Fisher is a poor little rich kid whose mother has decided that she's tired of caring for him, so he gets shipped off to stay with his father, a diplomat living in Marseilles, France. He has a tutor, and gets to go to lots of posh events, but there's something lacking in his life. While writing a story while observing the crush of life around him, he notices pickpocketing going on and then meets Amir. Amir makes off with Charlie's silver fountain pen, intriguing Charlie even more. He finds a business card for a restaurant, and sets out to meet the group of child thieves. The "whiz mob" is a diverse group of young people who travel around the town relieving the well-to-do of jewelry, wallets, and other possessions. Charlie is strangely honored to be accepted into the group, practises his own pickpocketing skills, and spends his days robbing the public, which is more exciting than studying his Latin. When Amir tells Charlie to quit running with the group, the two fall out. Amir leaves the group, and Charlie is excited to be able to take part in a "big tip" for a change. When the event turns out to be one that his own father is at, will Charlie be able to see what the group's long con is?

The whiz mob is described in such a way that their actions are more adventurous than criminal. After all, what is a centime to someone who owns a yacht? While the children do rely on their collections to survive, they are taken care of by shadowy members of the "school", so are not portrayed as starving street children. After all, "big tips" might call for tuxedos and evening dresses, which would not look right on starving, unwashed children.

The details about daily life in this exotic town in the 1960s are exquisite, and Charlie's privileged life is appealing, if a bit dull. His father's job is a little vague, but ultimately takes center stage in the whiz mob's plans.

While the amount of diversity depicted might not have existed in Marseilles at this time, it's nice to see a variety of countries of origin.  The mob is headquartered in Bogota, Colombia, and the children are recruited from all over the world, which is why there are children from the US, Russia, and other countries. Amir is a great character, and his longing for the smell of baking from his home country is especially touching.

The writing style is reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, with snarky asides to the audience, and there is also a vast quantity of pickpocket slang used. Readers who enjoy quirky historical fiction with a dash of adventure, will find The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid as refreshing as a nice tall glass of grenadine and milk.

(Which sounds awful, doesn't it? And I can't think of a single student I have ever had who would want to plow through over 400 pages of lines like "Charlie was forced to reef the kick-creating pleast in the fabric to push the okus toward the opening of the pit..." although the twist at the end and the long con were both vaguely interesting. Just one of those books that must be too sophisticated for my readers.)

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