Monday, August 23, 2021

MMGM- Eyes of the Forest

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

You know what my readers like best in books? Feeling that they are reading something for OLDER kids. This seems to end somewhere in college, although I enjoyed Osman's Thursday Murder Club, which had characters in a retirement facility, and I've decided I'm "pre-elderly". Henry's books are fantastic in this regard-- characters are older, situations more dire, but there's no language that would get students expelled should they use it, and nothing surprisingly instructional. When I started being a librarian in 2002, there were a lot more books like this, but middle grade seems to be skewing younger while YA has increasingly included more mature material. 

What are some "older" books that you recommend to 10-14 year olds?

Henry, April. Eyes of the Forest
August 24th 2021 by Henry Holt & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bridget is a superfan of R.M. (Bob) Haldon's Swords and Shadows fantasy series. Even though they are long and for older readers, she was introduced to them by her mother, and read them to her mother as she fought a long battle with cancer. Now, she finds comfort in the fictional world. She also has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and the details of the book. After pointing out an error at one of Haldon's book readings, she was approached by the troublesome and reclusive author to be his continuity expert. After meeting with her father to make sure he isn't inappropriate, Haldon has been e mailing Bridget questions, and she has constructed a cross referenced database with information about characters, weapons, and plot lines. This is the best part of her life, since high school is just generally unpleasant and socially difficult. Haldon, on the other hand, is struggling with his made up world and suffering from tremendous writer's block. The last book in the series is overdue, and he is not having any luck with his writing. After a random comment from Derrick, the son of his housekeeper, Joanne, he has an idea. He arranges to have Derrick kidnap him and take him to a remote cabin to work. Things don't go quite as planned, with Derrick whacking Bob a bit too hard on the head, and provided much healthier food than the author is used to eating, but the things that Bob needs to write are all in place-- a typewriter, a treadmill desk, quiet, and the threat to his safety if he doesn't produce that Derrick provides. Bridget has gotten in trouble for listening to an audiobook in class, and Ajay, who sits by her, asks about this. The two have lunch, share Ajay's amazing Indian food, and start a tentative friendship. Bridget reads the books aloud to Ajay and his suggestion, and he shares his cooking. Bridget is concerned, however, about strange messages that she gets from Bob. Unable to write, Bob wants to be free, but Derrick has his own plans. Since he recorded the conversation he had with the author about kidnapping him, he feels he has free reign to exploit the captivity. He arranges to sell chapters of the book on the dark web, and also starts to publish some of the web cam surveillance videos he takes to keep an eye on his captive. Bridget shares her concerns with Ajay, and the two try to get to Bob's house, only to be met by Joanne, who tells the police that they are rabid fans, and that Bob is traveling. Bridget works on the clues, but Ajay is reluctant to believe her, even though the two move closer to a romance. Bob writes pages for Derrick by day but gets to work on the actual novel at night, hiding the typewritten pages. When Joanne thinks that there isn't enough money, she starts making Bob do silly things for the camera, and posts those to get more money. Even after Bridget breaks a coded message, the police don't believe her. Will she be able to save the author as well as his much anticipated new novel?
Strengths: Wow. There's a lot going on here, but it's all intricately constructed and so fast paced that I stopped taking notes about halfway through the book. (Although I did remember what went on; I really wanted to describe more of the ending because it's so clever, but didn't want to ruin the suspense!) Bridget and Bob's separate lives are described really well, and it helps to make their relationship seem feasible. The details are interesting-- Bridget's father works for a plastic manufacturer, and is not happy when she tells him about Ajay's reusuable lunch packaging, and Bob has an unhealthy lifestyle that is run on junk food, but slowly gets in shape in captivity. The whole subculture surrounding Swords and Shadows is fascinating, and Derrick's involvement with LARPing based on the books gave an unsettling edge to his actions. This definitely felt almost like an adult mystery novel, and I could just see it being made into a Movie of the Week in the 1980s with Nancy McKeon as Bridget!
Weaknesses: The cover should have had more cabin and less face. Perhaps a typewriter. It's fine, just not that appealing to my students. 
What I really think: Definitely looking forward to having this one to hand to my students! The tie to a fantasy world might help hard core fantasy readers branch out into mystery, and it's also one that my teachers might enjoy reading. 

Dress from about 1999, from the thrift store. I always wore to schedule pick up when my children were in school, but this week looks hot and humid. 

I may try to replicate this dress (without the massive shoulder pads) in a bold floral. I've become obsessed with @marcialoisriddington on Instagram and want to wear nothing but jumpers and "frocks" made out of old curtains and tablecloths. 

Or maybe I just need more sleep!


  1. This book sounds good. But I agree about that cover. (Sadly, we do judge books by their covers.)

  2. Sounds like a great book!

  3. Sounds like a book that will be a hit with your students.

    Good luck if you do try to replicate that dress.

  4. Looking forward to reading the latest April Henry book! There are so few straightforward mysteries that you can give to the older MG/younger YA crowd, it seems...

  5. Huh! Misery for middle-graders! This sounds really intriguing.

    (Have you perhaps been watching The Sound of Music? Dresses made of curtains ...)

  6. Wow—that book definitely sounds like a lot is happening! But not in a bad way—that premise is extremely intriguing, with the fantasy series and the mystery and the two intriguing protagonists and all the details you mention. I can imagine that readers would feel like they are reading something for older kids there! I don't know if I have any suggestions on that front—there are some books I know of that are considered YA but that feel MG to me (like my favorite graphic novel, The Magic Fish), but I don't know if they actually feel older than MG. Thanks so much for the great review!

  7. This really sounds like a terrific book. I am going to have to find a copy. Thanks for telling me about it. I love the concept.