Twitter doesn’t give me enough characters to gush about the books I’m reading, so I’ve decided to join in Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, created by author Shannon Messenger. Basically, she put out a call for bloggers to post about middle grade books each Monday. I’ve found several books to read this way, so I’m going to pass along what I’m reading.
As I explained in my post last week about how writing middle grade changed my reading habits, I initially found middle grade books to read based on what the agents* I was targeting represented. Some of these books have been a chore, others have been enjoyable but not something I would pick up again, and then there are those that blow me away and make me a fan for life. One of the latter was THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander. Billed as THE GODFATHER for kids–even the cover mimics the classic film–it totally lived up to the hype, and with the last cliffhanger line, I knew I’d have to read the next one. THE FOURTH STALL PART II is every bit as good as the first book. You don’t have to read them in order, but I’d still recommend it.
Here’s a summary from the publisher:
The life of crime is good. Mac has taken down legendary high school crime boss Staples, business has been booming, and Mac and Vince are getting ready for middle school baseball tryouts. But this can’t last. Mac has always tried to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. But what happens when you can’t tell the difference?
This dilemma walks into the fourth stall in the form of Trixie Von Parkway—an eighth grader with a mean look and an even meaner predicament. The new science teacher is terrorizing her, and she needs Mac to get him off her back. Seems simple enough, but as Mac starts to dig deeper, he finds even more trouble brewing at his school, including a new administrator bent on destroying his business, and indications that Trixie isn’t who she claims to be. In the past, the worst thing that could have happened to Mac was that he might lose a little money, maybe catch a beating. In The Fourth Stall Part II, though, there’s going to be much more on the line than that.
I’ve decided my MMGM format will be to list five things I love about the book, so here goes:
1. Mac: I love his voice. As I’m reading, I almost feel like I’m in an old black and white movie with a detective recounting a case, except this version’s from the guilty party. He goes from a confident adolescent crime boss, to a bumbling boy who can’t say the right thing to an intriguing older girl, to a mature guy who takes responsibility for his actions. From the perspective of someone who always follows the rules, I don’t admire some of the things he does, but I still feel like he’s good underneath, and he proves that in the end.
2. The descriptions: I’ll just let the text speak for itself. Here’s an excerpt from the first scene:
“Her eyes were bright green and glowed like the neon signs you see in pawn shop windows. Her hair was dark, not quite black but dark enough to remind me what my teacher had once said about how objects that are black absorb all frequencies of light so that none can be seen, as if they want to keep all color to themselves. The girl’s hair hung past her shoulders in intentional tangles that looked like they could eat a kid alive. She was dressed as if she cared just enough to make it look like she didn’t care, and I kind of liked that about her.”
3. Baseball: As a diehard baseball fan, I love that the two main characters volley trivia questions back and forth throughout the book and base another character’s trustworthiness on his baseball affiliation. The only problem? They’re Cubs fans. It’s a tribute to the book that I like it in spite of this affiliation. I did chuckle at the reference to my beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
4. Twists, oh, the twists! Even though the story is told in past tense, Mac never gives away what’s coming. It’s a testament to Chris Rylander’s technique that he kept me guessing until it was time to reveal the next twist. There were hints but never enough to make me think, “I saw that coming.” Well done, Mr. Rylander.
5. Series transition: The book starts exactly where Part I left off–with Trixie walking into Mac’s bathroom stall office. There’s no infodump of the first book’s plot. Backstory is masterfully woven in without any spoilers. You could read this book and go back to the other one without feeling like you already knew everything that happened. Sure, it gives the ultimate ending, but you expect the main character to win in the end, right? At the same time, the last line of this book left me salivating for THE FOURTH STALL PART III. Another cliffhanger and another reader waiting for more!
Has anyone else read this series? Leave your thoughts here if you have. Next week I plan to cover THE DEAD GENTLEMAN by Matthew Cody.
*For those of you who are querying authors, Chris Rylander is represented by Steven Malk of Writers House, and you can read his success story on QueryTracker here.