Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
I was drawn to the ARC of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (Kate Messner) at ALA because of the beautiful cover; almost turned off because the jacket summary mentions cross-country running and I'm not generally into sports books; persuaded by a sentence explaining that Gianna has "a grandmother who keeps losing her false teeth", because I'm a sucker for funny grandmothers. In the end, it was enjoyable from start to finish, smarter, funnier, and more original than I was expecting.
Gianna Z is a book that's busy without being crowded. Messner touches on procrastination, Alzheimer's, young love, middle-school friendships, botany, poetry, running, cooking, art--yet I never felt like she was trying to do too much. Gianna's life is so busy and multi-faceted that I could totally understand why she has trouble getting her science project done.
That science project (collecting and identifying 25 different types of leaves) forms the spine of the book. This is a school story through-and-through, and it really gets across how important school is to seventh-graders. Maybe too often school is almost an afterthought in middle-grade books these days, but I remember what it was like when school was pretty much everything, and when it was always getting in the way of what I'd rather be doing. To a seventh-grader it is honestly very important that a big project get done well and on time, and that can cause all kinds of angst. And as in real life, Gianna's school worries don't go away when her family life gets complicated--projects still need to be turned in. (I remember the relieved amazement I felt when I got to college and discovered that professors would readily grant extensions if a student had too much else going on. I can't remember that I ever asked for an extension, but it was nice to know they were there.)
That funny grandmother? Yes, very funny and lovable indeed; an Italian immigrant who makes co0kies and spaghetti sauce. There's even a recipe for the cookies at the back, always a great touch. I also liked a minor character who is an avid recycler and reluctant cross-country runner. And oh, there are so many funny moments:
"Heck, I eat wedding cookies with dead people almost every weekend."
(...um... maybe you had to be there.)
"My hair and I have already had a long day."
(Oh, Gianna, we are sisters.)
I was surprised by a goodreads review that seemed to want this book to be more neat and didactic, because I loved how messy everything was, how all lessons were not learned, how everything didn't tie together neatly. I think you will, too.
There's only one thing I wish was different--I'd have liked to see the mean girl become a little more three-dimensional. I felt sorry for her.
(Oh, and because I'm kind of a snob, I keep wincing when I think about how many people will pronounce Gianna's name wrong.)
Gianna Z: solid, funny, real, recommended.
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z comes out September 1 from Walker Books for Young Readers. All quotes taken from the ARC, which was provided by the publisher.