I read these books all together for our Young at Heart book club so it only feels right to review them all together. Our goal for book club was to find book selections that reminded us of childhood in order to (hopefully) inspire a bit of lighthearted nostalgia. For the most part, these books succeeded on that metric for me.
Ghost Squad – 4 stars
Up first is Claribel Ortega’s Ghost Squad. I often have trouble sinking into Middle Grades books – it is where I most clearly feel the “this book is not written for me” gap between childrens/YA and Adult literature. But, by and large, I was able to sink into the reading of Ghost Squad and enjoy the story of Lucely Luna, her best friend Syd, and their adventures with more than one type of ghost. From Goodreads: Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.
Ortega weaves her Dominican culture into the story, giving us a taste of nimitas/cocuyo and the other things that go bump in the Caribbean night. I enjoyed the heck out of that, but the part that stuck with me the most – and what I’ve been sharing with others about this book – is just how girl-centric this story is. The story is a fun adventure that also tackles some big themes like loss, belonging, and family The way that Lucely’s ghost family functions in the story, and how her dad is on the outside looking in to those relationships, forms an incredibly strong base from which Ortega builds Lucely’s independence, her friendship with Syd, and the world saving they get up to.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – 3 stars
I’ll be honest, this book is where the expectations monster came and got me. My memory from childhood is loving this book. Spoiler: I did not love it as an adult.
The book focuses on 9-year-old Peter Hatcher’s frustration with the horrendous behavior demonstrated by his annoying nearly 3-year-old brother, “Fudge”, who frequently goes unpunished. Peter becomes frustrated with Fudge for several things, particularly his insistence on disturbing Peter’s pet turtle, Dribble. Add into that Fudge’s nonstop temper tantrums, a finicky phase of abstaining from eating altogether, and their parents continuous doting on Fudge and Peter has had enough.
As an eldest sibling I felt for Peter and the struggles he had with his feelings surrounding his little brother Fudge. Thankfully my own younger siblings were never anywhere near Fudge levels of destructive, and no pets died at their hands. There is a constant undercurrent of stress in the book, and while my younger self probably just felt propulsive tension but adult me was stuck a bit in the mire.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 4 stars
Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway (which itself becomes redundant almost immediately), Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher from Betelgeuse 7 working on the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ford has spent the last fifteen years on Earth posing as an out-of-work actor and become best friends with Arthur, who is already having a terrible day as his house is being demolished for a highway. Once they are off-planet their adventure only grows as they become looped up with a series of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox: the two-headed, three-armed president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot. All this while traveling through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”).
Douglas Adams is playing with the reader, layering in ideas and notions that are meant to make you think while simultaneously going for the laugh. The book is performing on several levels at the same time. I read this one as an adult for the first time 6 years ago. While I do think that it really isn’t meant for the younger audience, it does fit into a great spot in the YA world while still being for adults as well. There’s a certain universality to the story where there’s something for you no matter where you are in your own life, but the humor might be lost on someone who isn’t old enough when they first encounter it.
The book does have its problems all these years out, there’s definitely a subset of readers who find themselves exhausted by Arthur’s shtick of just not doing for himself and he is often the weakest part of the story.