June 24, 2012

MMGM: The Fourth Stall, Chris Rylander

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Hurrah! This week I'm reviewing a middle grade novel that has been on my mind for some time. So many books these days have a magical element, or a fantastical setting (both of which I love), that it's quite easy to forget just how compelling middle school itself can be as a subject matter.

Do you remember the drama of middle school? Do you remember those moments of real, gut-wrenching fear? Or the explosively hilarious comedy of a well-timed poop joke? Well, The Fourth Stall delivers a keen representation of these moments in a middleschooler's life.

The Fourth StallThe Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've ever wondered what Al Capone and his buddies might've been like in middle school, The Fourth Stall is your answer. In this cunning, smart tween-age mobster story, Mac is a savvy sixth grader who runs a shady service out of a defunct bathroom stall.

With his longtime buddy Vince backing him up, Mac sells solutions to other kids' problems. He's perfectly happy delivering practical solutions to problems like procuring test answers, or even making loans, until a competitor starts cutting into his profits.

This competitor, in true gangster style, is known only by the name Staples. He no longer even attends school--instead, he's a fixer running a gambling ring, and he's draining Mac's customers dry. Mac and Vince can't let Staples keep operating or they'll never be able to afford their dream: tickets to see the Chicago Cubs play a World Series game!

The Fourth Stall follows Mac and Vince's journey in hilarious and honest detail--Rylander really gets kids at this age, especially boys. I can recall being so consumed with a handmade jewelry business I ran in sixth grade that I forgot about school almost entirely. That's the case with these boys, as well. They fight for what they want, test their limits along the way, and realize that true friendship, in the end, is the greatest prize of all.

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  1. Both books in this series are wildly popular at my middle school. Glad you could make that connection with your own middle school experience!

  2. Hey Melanie--great post! I saw this book on another blogger's site too. But I'm concerned . . . do you think it glamorizes organized crime and the mob?

    1. The world in this story is an exaggeration of real-life. The children have much more autonomy and fewer restrictions than kids really have at this age--the amount of time they have, alone, to pull off their endeavors makes it obvious that this isn't "real."

      That said, although there ARE bullies and crimes in this book, little goes unpunished in one way or another. The school may be a little lawless, but the kids do learn that every action they take comes with a consequence.

      I'd be curious to talk to a middle schooler about their take on the story. My guess is, reading this book is like watching a kiddie gangster movie. I hope the morals of the story would teach them not to emulate it.

    2. Oh, okay. I just didn't want kids to grow up thinking that "mobster" was a viable career option! But it's good the actions have consequences.

  3. My son LOVES these books. It's true that most middle school boys have a different sense of reading and humor, and Rylander taps into that.

  4. I love these books--and I enjoyed your mini debate with Ilana above. The truth is that, despite the title, the goings on at that middle school are very unmoblike. (And you can quote me, The Middle Grade Mafioso, on that!)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog also. Great to meet you.

    1. Excellent. I'm in with the mob! *so excited*

  5. I agree with your assessment of the situation with the mob comparison. Someone expressed the same concern on my blog when I reviewed Part II. Now you'll have to read that one!

    By the way, I love the design for your blog!


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