Title: The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid
Author: Colin Meloy
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Hardcover: 432 pages
Source: ALA Annual 2017
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
From the creators of the New York Times bestselling Wildwood Chronicles comes an original, humorous, and fast-paced middle grade novel about a band of child pickpockets—imagine The Invention of Hugo Cabret meets Oliver Twist.
It is an ordinary Tuesday morning in April when bored, lonely Charlie Fisher witnesses something incredible. Right before his eyes, in a busy square in Marseille, a group of pickpockets pulls off an amazing robbery. As the young bandits appear to melt into the crowd, Charlie realizes with a start that he himself was one of their marks.
Yet Charlie is less alarmed than intrigued. This is the most thrilling thing that’s happened to him since he came to France with his father, an American diplomat. So instead of reporting the thieves, Charlie defends one of their cannons, Amir, to the police, under one condition: he teach Charlie the tricks of the trade.
What starts off as a lesson on pinches, kicks, and chumps soon turns into an invitation for Charlie to join the secret world of the whiz mob, an international band of child thieves who trained at the mysterious School of Seven Bells. The whiz mob are independent and incredibly skilled and make their own way in the world—they are everything Charlie yearns to be. But what at first seemed like a (relatively) harmless new pastime draws him into a dangerous adventure with global stakes greater than he could have ever imagined.
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at ALA Annual 2017. This is an honest review.*
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
This book is wonderful. I was transported into an entirely different world with the lingo of the whiz mob, and it was fun to watch Charlie, who would normally be a mark for these cons, to become one of the group. While the setting is supposed to be the 1960’s, it is timeless, with its themes of friendship, family, and the ever-present theme of trying to fit in.
The main character, Charlie, is what makes The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid shine. He is headstrong, daring, and ambitious, which endears him to the group of pickpockets he finds himself in. I loved reading about his new adventures and seeing how he tries to juggle the life of being a diplomat’s son and the life of being “on the whiz.” The only steep selling point for this book would be the vocabulary. There’s a list at the end to help, but it might get tiresome to flip the pages back and forth to figure out what people are saying. I think that the story and characters might be able to pull a reluctant reader through that, though.
The writing style is fantastic, with a lot of “breaking of the wall.” The narrator speaks directly to the audience many times, giving it a quirky, snarky sort of feel. My favorite is when he tries to explain how the characters are speaking French but the book is in English, so we need to come to an understanding. I think a lot of readers will appreciate it, as it gives a sort of “insider” feel to the story as a whole, and there’s humor to be found in it.
Without trying to give too much away, the twist is absolutely amazing, though I did have my suspicions about it. What makes it outstanding is what comes out of it and how Charlie deals with it. Overall, this is an excellent middle grade book that I would highly recommend.
As usual, my overall thoughts are agreement with what Alyssa said. I also thought that Charlie was a great character who really made the book. I thought that the fourth wall breaking mentioned in her review took what was a good story and elevated it into being a fantastic read that I was excited to tear through. Also, thinking about this book as someone who would recommend it to students, this meta commentary is something that I think would get buy in from even some reluctant readers. I’m specifically thinking about the narrator informing the reader that he will no longer be writing what people say phonetically anymore and we should just assume that everyone has a French accent or is speaking French. This is the type of thing students constantly complain to me about when they encounter it and I think would be appreciated by them. Beyond that, the story itself is a subject matter that I think would draw in readers with a wide variety of interests.
Where I will disagree with Alyssa a little is that I love the vocabulary being unique. This is something I always enjoy in books and despite there being a glossary I tend to not use it unless I absolutely have to. It really helps with immersion for me as I try to decipher everything as Charlie does and by the end of the book I felt like I had a handle on the lingo which was strangely satisfying. I also think that this leads to something else I loved about this book with the mythology built around the school of the seven bells that train these various whiz mobs. The fact that the author clearly did a lot of research to make sure the lingo was correct sealed this book for me as being one that I truly enjoyed.
I often worry that I am too uncritical of books, but as far as this one goes I went into it with little expectation and found myself smiling the whole way through. It was an easy read and one that I believe was well worth it. I’m excited to add it to my classroom library.