Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom!: A member of the male species dares to step foot into our YA world. See More...

Never Trust a Scared Person

A group of middle school students attempt to solve a mystery, find a treasure, learn about the civil rights movement, patch up a family feud, and deal with their first crushes. There. The ultimate middle grade novel.

Never Trust a Scared Person

BOOK REPORT for Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

Cover Story: As The World Burns
Drinking Buddy: I Love You All
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Very High
Talky Talk: History Lesson
Bonus Factors: James Meredith, PTSD
Bromance Status: To the Next Generation

Cover Story: As The World Burns

Very eye-catching. Dani reads her grandmother's journal while picturing the burning of Oxford, MIssissippi: the actual burning during the Civil War, and the metaphorical burning during the desegregation riot a hundred years later.

Still, the title initially led me to believe that the girl had burned down the town and was casually reading while thinking of an insincere apology.

The Deal:

On the last day of eight grade, Dani Beans has it on good authority that her friend Mac is going to tell her that he likes her likes her. She's kind of blindsided when he tells her that he no longer wants to be friends. Does this have something to do with their grandmothers? Dani's African-American grandma and Mac's white grandma are two noted scholars of race relations in their town of Oxford, Mississippi. Once the best of friends, the pair had a falling out and no longer speak. No one knows why.

But now Dani's grandmother is dying from Alzheimer's. And while she rarely talks, she occasionally makes cryptic remarks to Dani. Something about something she's left for her granddaughter. Something about a key and a book. Something about Mac's grandmother. Dani, along with her friend Indri and butthead Mac, try to unravel a secret fifty years in the making.

Drinking Buddy: I Love You All

Dani and her pals were a great group of researchers, perhaps just a little too mature and logical for a group of fourteen-year-olds. Mac's grandmother was a frightening old baddass, and Dani's grandmother, before she fell ill, was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. As usual, great characters carry a sometimes hard to believe plot.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Very High

What starts off as the mumblings of an old woman who's outlived her brain, soon becomes an incredible adventure. Key too small to fit a door? Check. Helpful but somehow sinister professor? Check. Cranky librarians and helful booksellers? Check? Real life crimes against humanity? Check. Things got especially intense when they learned about the history of Ole Miss and James Meredith, its first African-American student. When you read about the violence and rioting that accompanied his enrollment you get angry. And then you remember...it really happened (see below).

And then there's that jerk, Mac. Indri dubs him 'Worm Dung.' But the thing is, Dani thinks there may be more to his story than he lets on. And while Dani isn't interested in that tiresome boyfriend/girlfriend thing, he is a nice guy, a budding musician, and...not hard to look at.

Talky Talk: History Lesson

At times the book got a little lecture-y, with characters giving lessons about history. Still, it was pretty fast moving and enjoyable. The author did a great job of weaving a tragic chapter in Mississippi's history into a modern day, low-stakes mystery. The author kind of glosses over modern day racism. Multi-racial Dani and Indian-American Indri live in a Mississippi where everyone is liberal and understanding, and racism is a thing of the past. I think that kind of does a disservice to the sacrifices of people like Meredith; the battle is not won.

Still, for kids who want to know how things were in their grandparents' generation, this book would be a great place to start.

Bonus Factor: James Meredith

James Meredith was the first black student enrolled at the University of Mississippi, in 1962. A lot of students didn't like that and were quite rude to him. Actually, the governor refused to allow him to enroll, President Kennedy sent in the national guard, and there was a full-fledged battle between the guardsmen, federal marshals, students, townies, Klansmen, and others. Over three-hundred were injured and two people were killed.

Mac's grandmother wrote a novel about that night, excerpts of which start each chapter. But she was really there during the riot, as was Dani's grandmother. Something happened then. Something no one will talk about. Something that might have ended their friendship. Dani is determined to find out.

Bonus Factor: PTSD

Dani's father is a veteran of three wars (though we're never told which ones). He's had bad experiences. He can no longer work. He spends his days in the garden, just trying to forget. On top of all that, he has his dying mother to take care of. Dani sometimes feels silly, going on her treasure hunt while her father has to deal with his ghosts. But you can't deny the deathbed wish of your grandmother, either.

Bromance Status: To the Next Generation

I'll pass this one on to my daughter, if she ever gets through her own enormous TBR stack.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• Another good middle grade mystery book is Amanda Hosch's Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying.

• For a book about another kind of civil rights with a family mystery, The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg might be up your alley.

• Interested in the artistic rivalry side of the story? Look no further than Original Fake, by Kristin Cronn-Mills.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor beer for writing this review.

 

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.