Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

The Boy Who Fooled The World

Extract:

‘Cole,’ she repeated, crouching down to study the picture more closely. Her wide-legged trousers brushed against the side of my picture, leaving a streak of blue paint near the hem. Those trousers probably cost more money than my mum earned in a month.

‘Yes, erm … Cole Miller,’ I said, gulping.

‘I can see it. I can see exactly what it is you were trying to do,’ she said. 

(The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson. P51.) 

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Synopsis:

Cole is sick of being poor and the taunts he endures at school only get worse after everyone finds out that his Dad doesn’t work at all.

Then Marina, an artist who is visiting the school, claims to see potential in Cole’s work. She takes it to her gallery in London where it sells for a thousand pounds. Marina reckons that the next painting will sell for even more.

The only trouble is there was nothing really special about the first one. Cole can’t see for the life of him what the big fuss was. He considers owning up, but his family desperately needs the money. Cole is under huge pressure to produce the next masterpiece and the growing media interest doesn’t help. Then Cole does something. Something that fools the entire world.

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Review:

Lisa Thompson has forged a reputation for unbeatable contemporary middle-grade stories. Her stories get right to the emotional heart of her characters’ experiences and The Boy Who Fooled The World is no exception. Cole is struggling with being the poor kid in school and never having the money to join in with everyone else. He also loves his family lots and is fed up of the judgement cast over his parents.

There are two big stories going on in this book. The first centres around an unsolved art mystery that allegedly leads the solver to great riches. The painting with all the clues happens to be housed in the local museum where Cole’s Mum works. The museum is due to close down so if Cole and his friends want to find the treasure they are running out of time. The second story is about Cole’s sudden rise to fame when a modern artist sees something in his work that he never intended. Lots of questions are posed early on and it is impossible not to want to know what happens in the end.

The emotional stories are strong too. Cole wants the jibes to stop to the extent that he is desperate to find his family some money. He never stops to questions whether this is everything he needs in life. His best friend Mason, meanwhile, comes from a very well-off family but hardly ever sees his parents. When he does, there is immense pressure on him to uphold their very high standards. It was interesting to see this contrast. Sometimes people write off the concerns off middle-class children because everything that matters is OK. Yet it is impossible to put into words what family time and praise and happy family relations mean to a kid.

That’s not to say Cole’s situation isn’t shown with sensitivity. The descriptions of his coat and the rubbish heating system inside his house and the school trip letter that he almost doesn’t bring out of his bag paint a picture that is sadly too common at this moment in time. The scenes with Cole’s Dad are brilliant too – how people in society are so uncomprehending of his choice to put his children first and take time out of work. How he is treated as a lesser person the second he explains what he is doing. These scenes give readers a chance to reflect on their own attitudes away from the prejudice of other influences.

This book has a great plot line and strong friendships and I think Lisa Thompson is one of the most amazing writers of contemporary middle grade today. Her books are one-sitting wonders that are impossible to put down and they promote kindness and empathy.

A must read.

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Boy Who Fooled The World. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson

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Extract:

‘I don’t understand. You’re not real; you’re imaginary. You’re in my head but I can’t make you go away. Why won’t you go away?’ 

Sam leaned towards me. The yellow of his t-shirt made a warm, buttercup glow under his chin.

‘I’m here because you want me to be, Nate. Isn’t that fantastic?’ 

(The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson. P61.) birdSynopsis:

Nate and his Mum leave their home in the middle of the night, to escape Gary. They head to a cottage they visited when Nate was small. It belonged to a gardner called William and it sits on the edge of a big estate. Now William is dead, it is the perfect place for Nate and his Mum to hide.

Except Mum goes missing, leaving Nate on his own. Well … not quite on his own. Old imaginary friend Sam returns to cheer Nate on as he works out what to do. There is also Kitty, the strange girl from the estate. Kitty is obsessed with solving a treasure hunt set by William decades ago. A treasure hunt which ended in tragedy, and was never solved.

Can Nate help to work out the clues? Will he find Mum, or has she gone back to Gary? A fantastic Middle Grade novel about fear, friends and emotional abuse.

birdReview:

I sat up until 1am reading The Light Jar. Once I’d started it was impossible to stop. It is an addictive mystery and a lyrical story rolled into one, and is expecptionally well written.

The child’s voice is spot-on. Nate grasps some parts of his situation, but overlooks others. For example, he doesn’t understand why Grandma was mean to Mum last time they met, or why they aren’t going to Grandma’s anyway. He is as bewildered by the dirty cottage as he is by Gary’s behaviour. On top of this, Nate has his own landscape of books and gadgets and interests. The result is that we can guess his age within a couple of years without knowing anything about the book.

The story of Mum and Gary’s relationship is sandwiched between other story lines. This means only so much is shown, and none of the detail is overwhelming for a young audience. My favourite part of the emotional abuse theme is how every single character is shown having an angry moment, or a moment where the say something hurtful. In every situation, the characters act because of their feelings or because of the way someone behaves. Every single person has moments they regret, and that is shown as normal. I loved the comparison to Gary, who often speaks in an apparently reasonable and kind voice, but controls other people’s reactions. This is an important message which needs to be heard.

The mystery is fantastic. Enough information is given ahead of the clue that young readers might work it out themselves. This gives the reader satisfaction whether they are right or wrong. I don’t know a single reader who doesn’t love the feeling it-was-there-all-along. I love the setting, and the way Nate learns the old house like a puzzle.

Imaginary friend Sam is a joy. Anybody who liked The Imaginaries will love this world where imaginary friends linger on after they are needed. It was a clever way of showing how Nate processed his situation, and how children revert to younger behaviours when they are stressed or frightened. The theme of fear runs through the book, with Nate’s light-jar symbolising hope and comfort.

Some reviewers have described this as an ‘easy’ read, but to me this only describes the length of the story. It is a short read with a huge depth, and it is an achievement in contemporary children’s fiction.

 

Louise Nettleton

Thank you Scholastic UK for my lovely prize. Opinions my own.