Monday, July 29, 2019

MMGM- On Thin Ice

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Northrop, Michael. On Thin Ice
July 30th 2019 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ked Eakins lives in the small town of Norton, where the major manufacturing plants are seeing hard times. His father only works part time, and his mother has left the family because of the father's gambling. To make matters worse, there is no longer his mother's health insurance to help Ked deal with his worsening kyphosis that is progressively ruining his posture. He deals with it by wearing baggy shirts, but the pain is a constant issue, and the kids in middle school are cruel about it. To make matters really bad, his friends have abandoned him one by one, so he has no one with whom to sit in the cafeteria. When Ked finds out that his father is not only behind on the rent, but has gambled the money away on a bet concerning the town's Thin Ice festival, Ked feels he must act. He takes $200 and buys a battered Road Rokkit motorcycle. He hopes to fix it up and sell it for $600 so the rent can be paid. His father, however, has sold his tools, so Ked takes the engine in to the school MakerSpace to work on it. His former friend, Nephi, is there working on a project for the Norton festival, as is Goth Girl Esme and school bullying, Landrover. When space is limited, the teacher who watches the MakerSpace during his planning period, Mr. Feig, lets Ked, Esme and Nephi stay after school to work on their projects while he grades papers. Landrover is angry, and sabotages Ked's efforts, damaging the bike. After struggling with the bike, school, and dealing with his father, Ked is pushed to his limits and thinks he will try to win the Thin Ice festival bet by cracking the ice and collapsing the tower himself-- but when he gets there, he finds Landrover there trying to do the same thing. Not surprisingly, this doesn't go well, but the experience makes Landrover a bit kinder towards Ked. The two work together, Ked gets out of his predicament for the time being, and things look a bit brighter after a heart-to-heart with his misguided but well-meaning father.
Strengths: Ked is an amazing character whose plight will speak to many middle grade readers. Why more books don't delve into the intricacies of lunch room dynamics, I will never know. Ked's physical challenges are lightly handled-- his back certainly bothers him physically and emotionally, but he moves on the best he can. The idea to fix up and sell a motorcycle isn't the best idea, but it is certainly something that I can see occurring to a middle school student as a great way to make money. I normally don't like books about bullying because they are not realistic (swirlies, wedgies, etc.), but what Ked experiences is spot on. Whispered words, quiet digs, friends abandoning him. Told in first person, something about Ked's voice appealed to me and made me want to find out what would happen and how he would deal with it. Combined with the intriguing cover, this story will capture the imagination of a variety of readers.
Weaknesses: The MakerSpace is a sore spot with me. I was forced to have one, and it was impossible to monitor. Even our public library decided against having one. It's a fantastic idea for all the reasons we see in this book; it gives kids a different sort of outlet. But if I'm getting books to students, instructing language arts classes and having classes in to do research, it is, as Mr. Feig knows, hard to supervise.
What I really think: Wow. This has a lot of emotional impact AND is an interesting read. This is a fantastic book that spans that difficult MG/YA gap and is a great choice for 8th grade boys who have moved beyond books with simple characters and plots. Hand this to readers who liked this author's Rotten, Key's Fourmile, and Vrabel's Bringing Me Back.
Ms. Yingling


  1. Well, you totally have me with "fantastic book"! I'll definitely add this one to my list. Lunch room dynamics were one of the most difficult parts of school. Thankfully, I had plenty of friends and easily spanned across two or three cliques. Still, I feel anxiety just remembering some of the experiences of the lunchroom. Thanks for the great review!

  2. The story and character sound amazing. I'm sending your review link to our librarian who hopefully hasn't killed the budget this year with other requests. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  3. Thanks for the heads up about this one. I'm still trying to get my head around why the mother left her kid with the gambling father.

  4. Thanks for such a thorough review, as I was really able to grasp the story -- and felt your enthusiasm. I've never heard of kyphosis before. Am always looking for books where kids with disabilities focus on their abilities.

  5. This sounds like a fabulous novel! It's interesting that it deals with so many complex subjects, bullying and chronic pain among them. Thanks so much for the review!

  6. The cover caught my interest right away. I'm glad to hear the bullying is handled well and it sounds like an interesting story. Thanks for telling me about it. I will try to find a copy.

  7. This looks intriguing - definitely going to put it on my reading list.

  8. This sounds like a powerful read. The cover is engaging, too. Thank you for sharing this novel with us for MMGM.