Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Grant, Michael. The Magnificent 12 Book One: The Call. Katherine Tegen Books, 2010. 243 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-06-183366-3. This book is for grades 5 to 8, or ages 10 to 14, depending on reading level (3 1/2 stars out of 4).

There is no shortage of fantasy on the YA shelves in late 2010. The Harry Potter/Twilight phenomenon has spawned a whole cast (all puns intended to the work of P. C. Cast, one of the most popular fantasy authors in my middle school library) of second generation wizards and vampire-wolf-zombies, and I would speak more about them if I knew more. However, frequent readers of this column know that I do not review much fantasy because I do not like it. I comprehend fantasy’s popularity, I respect its quality authors, and I buy a healthy amount of new and classic fantasy for my students, but like ballet and cooked spinach, I understand their importance but I do not appreciate them. I make no apologies for my likes and dislikes, but I try my best to be fair when a new series comes along that I could review. I am always surprised when I like a fantasy, but The Call, the first book of the new series The Magnificent 12 by Michael Grant, is the kind of work that everyone can like: it is funny, its characters are charming even when they are unsuccessful, and an unlikely hero a la The Karate Kid gets to be a star, even though he is seemingly an ordinary kid.

David “Mack” MacAvoy does not want or need to be a hero. Frankly, he does not believe he could handle it anyway; he is mediocre in every way, surely not the stuff of heroes. However, even though he is medium regular in seemingly every way, there is another side to him that will eventually save his life: “His eyes were brown, too, which is the most common eye color in the world. But there was something else about his eyes. They were eyes that noticed things. Mack didn’t miss much” (3). After nearly getting killed by the guild of bullies at Sedona’ Arizona’s Richard Gere Middle School, he saves the life and arm of Stefan Marr, king bully, who misses Mack with a punch and instead punches a window. Shortly thereafter, a strange man named Grimluk informs Mack that he is actually a member of the Magnifica, a group of twelve guardians who have kept the Pale Queen and her minions trapped for 3,000 years. Grimluk is the last of the old guard, and Mack is charged with finding and assembling the new twelve so they can re-defeat the Pale Queen, aka the Dread Foe, and her evil but alluring daughter, Princess Ereskigal. Stefan the bully decides that Mack is now “under his wing” and he becomes Mack’s protector. Mack is mysteriously provided a replacement for himself at home, a Golem made of mud that looks and sounds exactly like Mack, so Grimluk implores Mack to enlist his newfound brethren around the world: “‘You must go! Now! For the enemy has your scent, and although the Dread Foe is still bound within her subterranean lair, her minions [six races of monsters] run riot” (87). Mack must save the world from an enemy he does not know with a group of people he has never met, traveling with his former bully across the world at age twelve. Who know life could be so exciting for “ordinary” people?

This book is a funny, clever romp and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It is clearly the first in a series that could get as prolific as the Series of Unfortunate Events. Mr. Grant has Lemony Snicket’s love of language and sarcasm, two passions students have demonstrated they enjoy. The Golem starts a great feature about halfway through the book in which he begins a journal of his experiences that the audience gets to see; it is dramatic irony at its most hilarious, and one can just imagine what will happen to Mack when he attempts to return to his “normal” life and replaces his Golem. Mack is a perfect Everyman, a regular guy asked to be extraordinary and trying his darnedest to not let the world down. Cliffhangers and/or the Golem’s journal entries help to propel each chapter end, while colorful enemies dot the book’s landscape and give Mack a reason to feel more empowered; each day he lives, he figures he just might be better than the bad guys. The back story is effectively woven into the story with humorous flashbacks of Grimluk’s childhood so that the insanity Mack feels is not as insane in the mind of the reader. Also, if an elegant and sophisticated website is the sign of a good book (www.themag12.com) then this is the best work of the millennium; the website is very cool. Michael Grant has created a winner in The Magnificent 12; I hope he can maintain the pace and humor levels enough to last through all twelve participants.

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