Small Medium at Large

19 07 2012

When I was 10 years old, books didn’t get much better than Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.  Those two women knew how to create great characters, put them in realistic, but interesting situations, and make you care if those people solved their problems.

Joanne Levy, the author of the new middle grades book Small Medium at Large, reminds me of those two wonderful authors.

The story is about Lilah, a 12 year old girl with typical 12 year old girl problems – divorced parents, prissy schoolmates, a crush that doesn’t seem to know she exists, and… oh yeah… dead people talk to her.

You see, Lilah was struck by lightning the day of her mom’s wedding.  Don’t worry, she’s fine – if you count suddenly having conversations with her deceased grandmother – Bubby Dora, a famous dead fashion designer, an attention starved (also dead) birthday clown, and the father of her crush (yup, he’s dead too) as being fine.

There’s your plot.  It’s fun.  It’s silly.  It’s a comedic version of The Sixth Sense in a lot of ways.  This idea, in the hands of a lesser author, may have gone no where, but Levy’s strength is character.   Lilah is one of those kids that you wish was in your class.  Her best friend, Alex, is the perfect sidekick, loaded with believable (and the believable is the hard part, because most authors make 12 year old characters too adult) sass and chutzpah.  Her dad is sad, but sympathetic, making a good contrast to Alex’s energy.  And the ghosts each add something new to the play – comedy from Prissy and the Clown, heart from Andrew(the crush)’s dad, and mystery from the young boy Rufus.   Lilah’s grandmother, Bubby Dora, though, steals the show – she’s absolutely fantastic, interfering at just the right (for comedy)/wrong (for Lilah) moments with the kind of sarcastic wit that will make middle grade readers fall in love with her.

With some of the strongest dialogue I’ve read in a long time and fantastic physical comedy, the book is full of hilarious moments, but my favorite is a scene in which Andrew and Lilah meet up at a cafe at the behest of Andrew’s dad.  Andrew doesn’t believe what’s going on as Lilah tries to help his dead father communicate with his son.  You can feel the frustration, sense the love, and understand the pain that both Lilah and Mr. Finkle must feel as the meeting goes south, but Levy throws in just the right amount of humor to keep the scene teetering on that line between laughter and tears.  I’ll go ahead and say it, that scene alone is one of the best written passages in a middle grades book ever.

With a debut novel like this one, I can not wait to see what Joanee Levy has for us next.  This is a true talent.

I have to give full disclosure here… A few weeks ago I entered an online contest and won an annotated copy of Levy’s new book.  Not only is it autographed, but it’s full of notes about the writing process, where Levy got her ideas, and some inside scoops about the story.  Afterwards, I was able to talk back and forth with the author on Goodreads and Twitter for a bit, but I promise, these experiences haven’t colored my opinion of the book.

My quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer break is more than half over.  Small Medium at Large was #47.  

 

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