Monday, April 17, 2017

ME AND MARVIN GARDENS by Amy Sarig King for Earth Month






Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (January 31, 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books, 256 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound):  Obe Devlin has problems. His family's farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn't like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his home, in the last wild patch left, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags... No one has seen a creature like this before, because there's never been a creature like this before. The animal--Marvin Gardens--becomes Obe's best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

Why I recommend it:  I've read every weird and amazing YA novel A.S. King has written. So I was thrilled when I learned A.S. King (also known as Amy Sarig King) had finally written a novel for the middle grade reader. And what an extraordinary novel it is. The writing is spare and the voice is spot-on. I love the way each Obe-centered chapter begins. (Examples -- Chapter 1: "There were mosquitoes."  Chapter 3:"There was a mess." Chapter 9: "There were questions.") Interspersed with Obe's short present-day chapters are even shorter chapters titled "One Hundred Years Ago", where we learn more about Obe's ancestors and how the Devlin land was lost.

Obe is a likable character, filled with righteous anger over the development of his family's land. Marvin Gardens is undoubtedly the most unusual animal you'll ever encounter in MG fiction. And in case you're wondering -- yes, Obe names him for the Monopoly property. In fact, Monopoly plays an important part, and small illustrations of vintage Monopoly pieces decorate the beginning of each chapter.

If you've ever played Monopoly, you know it's a ruthless game of acquiring properties and building on them. It's easy to guess that Amy King hates the way developments have taken over once-beautiful and once-productive farmland, not just her own family's land in Pennsylvania (see the About the Author page) but all over our country. And she must feel the same way I do about global warming and pollution. This book is the perfect read for "Earth Month" -- which Obe's favorite teacher insists we should have instead of just one day.

Favorite lines:  "Upstream were two finished housing developments and across the tree line was a flattened dirt wasteland scattered with construction equipment that looked like monsters in the falling light. The developer bought the last of the Devlin fields six months ago and planted more house seeds. Soon, more houses would grow." (from p. 10 of the hardcover)

Bonus: Besides the environment (certainly a timely and important theme), this book explores bullying, friendship, and family relationships.

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23 comments:

  1. What a perfect book for this month. And it's so awesome that blogs are featuring such diversity and in your case, environmental, books this week. So many middle grade books out right now.

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    1. Middle Grade does seem to be making its mark on the literary world, Natalie. Lots of potential award winners out there!

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  2. I've been hearing good things about this one. Thanks for adding your thoughts. It's on my reading radar and will try and get to it in the next few months. Love the title!

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    1. The title is just the tip of the iceberg on this one, Greg. Such an important book for our time.

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  3. I tried to read this one, but wasn't hooked enough to finish. Maybe I'll have to try again!

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    1. Not every book will appeal to every reader, Andrea. I'm just so used to Amy King's style that I got right into it.

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  4. I love that the author used a fantastic creature and land-loving kid to highlight this important issue. Sounds like a fantastic and creative read! Many thanks for the recommend!

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    1. She did an amazing job with Marvin, Suzanne. You find yourself totally believing such a creature could exist in our world today.

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  5. I don't think I have ever read anything by this author before, but this does sound like an interesting book. An animal that eats plastic? This could be a helpful creature for sure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this one. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. Jess, all her other books are YA and at some point in your life, you should read at least one of them (or all of them). Start with something like PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ or (my personal fav) EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS. In the meantime, you get a glimpse into her imagination with, yes, an animal that eats plastic. We could use one of those (or a whole herd of those) around here!

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  6. The fantastic creature sounds like a robotic creature. I'm curious enough to read the book. It is an unusual story. But, I do like the story of a kid living on a farm that is surrounded by development and how he deals with it. Excellent review!

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    1. No, he's not a robot, Pat. He's sort of a cross between a dog and a pig.

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  7. All I could think about while reading this post was how my late husband played Monopoly as if it were life and life as if it were Monopoly. I stopped laying it with him after he had made me cry too many times. Seriously, though, this sounds life an important book. I will be looking for it. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Ah, Rosi, how interesting -- the father in this book plays Monopoly the same way!

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  8. I have never read A.S. King--and now you've made me want to. This seems a very timely theme for a novel in this age of rampant "development."

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    1. Oh, Michael, you must correct that situation immediately!

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  9. I've been seeing this one around, and I'm so intrigued. It reminds me a little of HOOT, which I loved. I also think it'd appeal to my science and animal-loving son. This sounds really unique--thanks for featuring it!

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    1. You're welcome, Jenni. And there's a definite parallel with HOOT, which I also enjoyed.

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  10. I could have done without the fantastical element, but I did enjoy the setting of this one. It reminded me a lot of my grandmother's farm!

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  11. Ms. Yingling, I understand your viewpoint. But the fantastical elements are what makes A.S. King who she is.

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  12. This sounds interesting. A plastic-eating animal could come in handy. Thanks for your review, I'll keep an eye out for this one.

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YAY for comments! I read and appreciate each one and I always try to answer. All opinions welcome. Let's have a conversation.