The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid

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The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid
Colin Meloy, illustrations by Carson Ellis
Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins
October 2017
Reviewed from Advanced Reader’s Edition; all art not seen

When his divorcee mother decides to chase her dreams, Charlie is sent to Marseille in southern France to live with his father who serves as the American consul general there. Largely left to his own devices and bored of the high society parties his father drags him to, Charlie takes up with a group of young pickpockets known as the Whiz Mob. These aren’t any pickpockets though; they are highly trained career criminals working under the guidance of someone they call the Headmaster. Charlie is fascinated with the mob’s jargon (there’s a glossary in the back matter), their sketchy cafe hideout, and impeccable costumes that let them pull off elaborate grifts. Despite his lack of training, they take Charlie under their wing, but when Charlie’s best friend in the mob goes AWOL, it sets off events that leave Charlie choosing between his family and his friends. The story is set in the 1960’s but has a timeless feel. Challenging vocabulary and the Lemony-Snicket-esque narrator’s asides, seemingly addressed to adults, left me questioning what audience this book is meant for (publisher suggests grades 3-7). Nonetheless, more sophisticated middle-grade readers may be sucked in by the suspense, humor, and novelty of a gang of international children of mystery and will appreciate the mid-book plot twist, if they make it that far.

 

Placebo Junkies

placebo_junkies

Placebo Junkies
J.C. Carleson
Random House Children’s/Knopf Books for Young Readers
October 2015

Troubled teen Audie and her friends and roommates participate in paid medical trails for a living, often several at a time in a game of medical Russian roulette. One day a research assistant may take a chunk out of her leg; another day she’s taking pills to combat hallucinations; and later that afternoon she might be getting an MRI of her brain while trying to remember any happy memories, of which she has very few. Things seem to be going fine – Audie has good friends, a relatively stable living situation, and is saving up her money for a trip to Patagonia with her cancer-survivor boyfriend Dylan – until unexpected tragedy strikes. As Audie deals with the loss, her world starts to unravel and everything she experiences and thinks she knows is called into question. Her roommates are her friends, or are they? She’s doing these trials voluntarily, right? It’s just the pills that are jumbling her memory…at least she thinks so. And who is the Professor who keeps following her around with a notebook? Placebo Junkies is surreal, tense, and always seems to have something strange going on just offstage, but also addresses a lot of important questions about ethics, at-risk youth, who can be trusted, and how to take control.

I really can’t even write any more about this book. Seriously, the less you know, the better your reading experience will be. I love me a story with a twist, and while I could feel one coming in this book – so many things just seem a little off – there were so many bizarre options, I didn’t know where it would come from until it was right there. Seventeen-year-old Audie is sarcastic, damaged, and foul-mouthed as the narrator with a dark sense of humor. In fact the whole book is incredibly dark, right up until the sad and dramatic end. OK, that’s enough information. Just go read this book already!

Read-alikes:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Exit Here by Jason Myers
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma