Book Review: The Size of the Truth

28154339._SX318_The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith is an (excuse me) surprising book. It’s a surprisingly funny and surprisingly touching coming-of-age story. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.

Sam Abernathy is an 11-year-old 8th grader (having skipped both 6th and 7th grade).

When he was four years old, he fell in an abandoned well, and it took three days for him to be rescued. As a result of that experience, he still has claustrophobia. Also, he’s still recognized as the Boy in the Well everywhere he goes in his small town of Blue Creek, Texas.

Now, his parents think he’s on track to go to MIT and invent something that will change the world. But his dream is to be a chef. And his more immediate goal is to survive the school year, and in particular, to avoid a 14-year-old 8th grader named James Jenkins who was responsible (he believes) for his falling into the well.

The book alternates between Sam’s emerging memories of his time in the well (with a talking armadillo?!) and his accounts of his life as an 8th grader.

Here are some of the reasons this book is so funny:

  • Sam’s descriptions of James Jenkins:  According to Sam, even James’ friends are afraid of him. Here’s why: “James Jenkins walks like a murderer. He combs his hair like a murderer. James Jenkins chews Goldfish crackers for a really long time, which is something only a murderer would do.”
  • Sam’s use of excuse me: Sam is not allowed to swear, so anytime he feels like swearing, he instead says, “Excuse me.”
  • Sam’s accounts of his adventures with his dad. Sam’s dad, who owns a mini golf course, likes to wear kilts and take him survival camping.
  • Sam’s descriptions of the horrors of middle school. From male teachers to dances to P.E., there are new challenges everywhere for a kid who was recently in the 5th grade.

Sam from The Size of the Truth is a character from Smith’s YA book, Stand-Off, but you don’t need to have read that book to enjoy this one.

Book Review: Merci Suárez Changes Gear

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The Newbery winners are always interesting, well-written books. But, let’s face it. Some of them aren’t the type of book you’d choose to read during your last week of summer vacation.

This year’s winner–Merci Suárez Changes Gear by Meg Medina–is an exception. It’s a heart-warming and funny coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.

The story begins on Merci’s first day of sixth grade at Seaward Pines Academy, a fancy private school she attends on a scholarship. The new school year brings a lot of unwelcome changes for Merci. She misses her fifth grade homeroom teacher, she wishes she could still play sports with the boys during recess, and she feels like she’ll never figure out how to get along with Edna, the most popular girl in her class.

Things are changing at home too, where Merci lives with her extended family in three neighboring houses they call Las Casitas. Her older brother is learning to drive and applying to colleges. Merci is asked to take more responsibility for her younger twin nephews. Most importantly, her grandfather, Lolo, who has always been her companion and confidant, seems unusually forgetful lately and sometimes gets angry for no reason. Merci is worried, but no one will tell her what’s wrong.

The story alternates between Merci’s life at school and her life at home during the first half of her sixth grade year, and both parts are equally engaging. My favorite scene is one in which Merci and her classmates make a mummy for their Great Tomb Project in social studies class. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it will make you wince and giggle.

If you just have time to read one more book this summer, I recommend this one.