Middle Grade Reads #1: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and Rebel Genius

October 13, 2016 / 2 Comments / Feature, Middle Grade Reads, Mini-Reviews, Review


Hi guys, today I have some middle grade recs for you, courtesy of my husband, Evan! Evan is a mostly comic book reader, with lots of literary fiction interspersed. That said, he’s really interested in the middle grade age group – his favorite cartoons (Adventure Time and Steven Universe) explore that age. So when we saw that Gertie’s Leap to Greatness was illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (one of the artists on Adventure Time), and Rebel Genius was written by the creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra (the cartoons), he volunteered to read and review. Read on for his thoughts!

Middle Grade Reads #1: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and Rebel GeniusGertie's Leap to Greatness

Author: Kate Beasley
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication date: October 4th 2016
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books (thank you!)
My rating:
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

For fans of Three Times Lucky and The Penderwicks, this endearing new classic spins together sparkling humor, sizzle-pop writing, and a sassy main character with an unforgettable voice.

Gertie Reece Foy is 100% Not-From-Concentrate awesome. She has a daddy who works on an oil rig, a great-aunt who always finds the lowest prices at the Piggly Wiggly, and two loyal best friends. So when her absent mother decides to move away from their small town, Gertie sets out on her greatest mission yet: becoming the best fifth grader in the universe to show her mother exactly what she'll be leaving behind. There's just one problem: Seat-stealing new girl Mary Sue Spivey wants to be the best fifth grader, too. And there is simply not enough room at the top for the two of them.

From debut author Kate Beasley, and with illustrations by Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki, comes a classic tale of hope and homecoming that will empty your heart, then fill it back up again--one laugh at a time.

“Don’t be mad at me, it’s just one man’s opinion!”

That’s what Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) tells his crying adolescent daughter after insulting the play she wrote and produced all by herself, in The Royal Tenenbaums. The line is both hilarious and tragic, because a parent is never just another person.

Fifth grader Gertie knows this all too well. Gertie lives with her aunt, while her mother – for reasons unknown to her – lives in a house on the other side of town, having completely removed herself from Gertie’s life and upbringing.

Gertie’s journey in this book starts when she sees a “For Sale” sign on her mother’s lawn. Suddenly, Gertie makes it her mission to become the best fifth grader ever, because this is her last chance to prove to her mother that she doesn’t need her – she is doing just fine on her own, thank you very much. Oh, and nice job abandoning such an amazing daughter, ya dummy!

At least that’s how Gertie spins it, but it’s obvious to everyone around her that she just wants her mother to be proud of her.

Gertie perfectly captures the contradictions and complexities of being a tween, and she expresses herself in a delightfully creative way. In Gertie’s inner monologue, you would think that she is incredibly confident. She considers herself to be extremely talented and smart – especially when her hair is in a ponytail, thus causing the blood to rush to her head and make her even smarter. But her own view of herself can only get her so far, when that “one person’s opinion” – her Mom’s – is absent.

I can imagine some people finding Gertie’s character annoying, in which case this book might not be for you. But I loved her.

This book also has great illustrations by Jillian Tamaki, a villain you love to hate, and some well-developed side characters (not to mention a zombie frog). But Gertie is truly the star. I was with her on her journey all the way. A fun and emotional read.

Middle Grade Reads #1: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and Rebel GeniusRebel Genius

Author: Michael Dante DiMartino
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication date: October 4th 2016
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books (thank you!)
My rating:
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

A new fantasy-adventure series from the co-creator of the hit animated shows Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra!

In twelve-year-old Giacomo's Renaissance-inspired world, art is powerful, dangerous, and outlawed. A few artists possess Geniuses, birdlike creatures that are the living embodiment of an artist's creative spirit. Those caught with one face a punishment akin to death, so when Giacomo discovers he has a Genius, he knows he's in serious trouble.
Luckily, he finds safety in a secret studio where young artists and their Geniuses train in sacred geometry to channel their creative energies as weapons. But when a murderous artist goes after the three Sacred Tools--objects that would allow him to destroy the world and everyone in his path—Giacomo and his friends must risk their lives to stop him.

Rebel Genius, the new middle-grade fantasy novel by Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra creator Michael Dante DiMartino has a very unique central character, Giacomo. He’s 12-years old, homeless, and he’s an artist in the land of Virenzia, where art has been effectively outlawed by the evil Supreme Creator Nerezza.

I should probably note that a lot of characters are killed in this book, so keep that in mind if you’re reading with any younger or more sensitive kids.

The ideas in Rebel Genius are super cool. DiMartino has created a fascinating world in which art and music are, quite literally, magical. In Virenzia, when somebody is an artist, they have a Genius as a companion. Each person’s Genius takes the form of a different kind of bird, and these birds carry gems that connect the artist to the life-force of the world. Unfortunately, Nerezza has killed all of the Geniuses (at least, all the ones that she knows about), causing the artists of the world to become Lost Souls.

The action begins when Giacomo unexpectedly finds out that he has a Genius. He joins an underground rebellion of artists looking to overthrow Nerezza and bring art and beauty back into the world.

The story is great, and the action sequences especially stand out. However, the writing (especially the dialogue) is a little wooden, so Giacomo as a character doesn’t quite come to life like Aang from Avatar does.

My favourite parts of Rebel Genius involved Zanobius, who is a living statue, created and controlled by the power-hungry Ugalino. Zanobius is like a Golem or Frankenstein’s monster type of character, and his scenes raise the stakes by changing the central theme of the book from “What does it mean to be an artist?” to “What does it mean to be a person?”

Overall, despite the characters being a little weak, I was hooked by the world of Rebel Genius, and I will definitely be on board if DiMartino gets the opportunity to continue the series.

Thanks so much, Evan, for these great reviews. REBEL GENIUS and GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS are both out now. Which one are you more excited to read? Personally, I love the concept of Rebel Genius, so I might be picking that up first. Let us know in the comments if you liked Evan’s reviews (be gentle!), and what kind of middle grade read would interest you as a tween!

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2 responses to “Middle Grade Reads #1: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and Rebel Genius

  1. I’m such a sucker for middle grade fiction, and both of these have been on my list. I do have an eARC of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, although it sounds so good! It’s a bummer about Rebel Genius though, I was kind of hoping this would be one of those books to completely blow you away, you know? I’ll probably still pick it up, but it isn’t high up on my priority list. Great reviews, thanks for sharing!

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