Cover of Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. A boy wields a sword at a plant monster, flanked by a girl brandishing a slingshot and a younger girl holding a strange baby

About the Book

Title: Mighty Jack (Mighty Jack #1)
Published: 2016

Cover Story: Braveheart, Jr.
Drinking Buddy: Garden Party
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: High Yield
Talky Talk: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Bonus Factor: Spooky, Silent Sister; Fractured Fairy Tale
Bromance Status: Secret Crush

Cover Story: Braveheart, Jr.

Brian: How cool is this? Tell me you and your friends never imagined doing this when you were playing with your wooden swords and plastic slingshots. Props to Hatke for not sexualizing the 13/14 year old heroes.

Sophie: There wasn’t really this much stabbing and fighting and sling-shotting in the story. If I just picked this up and didn’t know anything about it, I think I would read it.

The Deal:

So Jack, a younger teen boy, lives with his single mother and his sister Maddy. Things aren’t great at home. Money is tight and poor Maddy…well, she’s just not right. She never talks. Lives in her own little world. She cannot relate to anyone, and with his mother working all the time, it often falls to Jack to watch out for her.

But one day at the local swap meet, Jack meets a mysterious stranger. Someone who offers Jack a box of magic seeds, in exchange for the keys to his mother’s car. Jack is no twit, but when Maddy–Maddy who never talks–tells Jack to take the deal, he’s flustered, just enough not to stop the guy.

Jack’s mother is understandably less than thrilled, even when the car is recovered. But true to the story, Maddy plants the seeds. And strange, amazing things begin to happen. First comes the arrival of Lilly, the cute, bad-ass, sword-wielding neighbor girl, who has taken a shine to Jack and his garden. And secondly…things begin to grow in the garden. Wonderful things.

Drinking Buddy: Garden Party

Two pints of beer cheersing

Brian: Jack was a neat character, the typical awkward boy who worries about his family, wants to impress Lilly but isn’t sure how, and is naive enough to fall for the bean scam. When a talking dragon appears in his yard, he’s not afraid to grab Lilly’s sword and confront the beast–though he tries to shoo it off like a dog. Jack has the makings of a giant killer, and Lilly notices.

Lilly, however, was my favorite character. Her older brothers are ren faire enthusiasts, and she’s inherited their weapons and armor. When she sees the magical stuff in Maddy’s garden, she’s the one who realizes the trio is in for the adventure of a lifetime…and what’s life without a little risk?

Sophie: I thought Jack was pretty funny. He took care of his sister instead of just thinking ‘Oh, my mom can handle that.’ Lilly isn’t girly. I like girls who aren’t all pretty dresses and makeup.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: High Yield

Brian: So when teenagers are secretly growing stuff in the backyard, you don’t expect it to lead to giant snails, adorable onion babies, and Lovecraftian horrors. But when Jack ends up battling the silver bells and cockle shells every evening, he wonders if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Yes, Maddy is actually interacting with people. And sure, it’s awesome to watch Lilly kick plant butt. Not to mention the chance for Jack to impress her with some derring do of his own. But the dragon warns Jack that something evil is in the garden, and it’s going to take more than Ortho and gopher traps to get rid of it.

Sophie: Most of the action level in the book was monster pumpkins, exploding blueberries, and a plant dragon. There were pretty long pauses between the exciting parts, but the dialogue made up for that.

Talky Talk: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Brian: Ever wish you had a chance to play the hero? To slay the dragon (or at least the snail), to to protect your family, and to impress the girl? This is a nice little everyman/woman story of some ordinary kids rising to the occasion and becoming modern day legends.

Sophie: Excitement! Sarcasm! Typical teenagers! And the best part: onion babies!

Bonus Factor (Brian): Spooky, Silent Sister

Wednesday Addams from the movie

We’re never told why Maddy never talks. There’s probably a specific diagnosis. All we know is that Jack’s very protective of her and worries that the garden is an evil influence. Lilly, however, realizes that maybe a little high-impact gardening might be just what the doctor ordered.

Bonus Factor (Sophie): Fractured Fairy Tale

Fractured Fairy Tales title sequence

It was interesting to see a modern twist on typical fairy tales.

Bromance Status: Secret Crush

While I’m not usually in to middle grade books or graphic novels, I’m totally boy crushing on this book and can’t wait to read part two.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or magic beans.

Brian 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.