by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Genie and his older brother, Ernie, are dropped off at their grandparents’ house for a few weeks in the summer so that their parents can try to repair their troubled marriage. Two city boys in the country with grandparents they barely know – what could go wrong? But as the summer starts, things go well, for a while. Grandpop is more interesting than they’d thought, and they take to tending the garden with Grandma relatively easily. They even make friends with a neighbor girl, Tess. But things start to slide when Genie accidentally poisons one of Grandpop’s birds. Things really come to a head when Grandpop, who’s blind, takes Ernie to learn to shoot guns on his fourteenth birthday, as per custom.
I won’t sugarcoat this – there are some tough issues happening in this book. There’s drinking, and Genie is sometimes in charge of his drunk grandfather, but Grandpop actually takes steps in working on that. He and Grandma are still feeling the effects of their older son’s death in Desert Storm. Their neighbor, Crab (Tess’s dad and a friend of the boys’ father) also has some issues going on personally and with his wife, who is a hypochondriac.
It’s hard to encapsulate how tight the writing feels when there’s so much going on. I just love when a good middle-grade novel has strong themes and ties up nicely (but not too nicely) in the end. As a writer myself, it’s what I strive for, and this book has it. Reynolds’ other, arguably more famous, works (The Boy in the Black Suit, When I Was the Greatest, and All-American Boys) are for teens; this book, along with Ghost, shows that he can write for the slightly younger set as well.