Minn , the tallest kid in fifth grade, is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day even before shrimpy new-kid Jake enters the classroom. He is having a THNGVB day as well, wishing that his family had never moved from Los Angeles to remote Santa Brunella. When Jake can’t reach a book on the classroom’s top shelf, the teacher tells him to ask for help. Minn is the obvious choice. Then the bell rings, and their teacher tells Minn to stick by Jake for recess. It happens to be the recess when Henry vomits up a mouthful of worm. And, in the free verse of Janet S. Wong, this is how things are shaping up before Valentine’s Day in Santa Brunella.
These were Minn’s worms that Henry ate.
Vik had dared Henry to do it to show everyone that he (Henry)is not in love with Minn.
(And now everyone knows that he — Henry — definitely is in love with Minn.)
The free-verse novel is a staple in young-adult fiction—where form often follows teen dysfunction. But Minn and Jake is aimed squarely at readers who still have recess. Readers, we might add, who also can get very confused about boy-girl friendships and whether they can exist without romantic or virulently anti-romantic (i.e., worm - eating) overtones.
We aren’t sure how many fifth graders would like this book: This isn’t best-seller material. Jake suffers as many humiliations as another, more famous, Wimpy Kid; but there’s no crowd-pleasing slapstick here. Minn is a tough girl, a lizard catcher who would be more at home in Holes, than the mall. Wong takes so seriously the Tilt-A-Whirl of emotions can afflict kids around age 11, that we wouldn’t be surprised if readers who were experiencing all those feelings didn’t especially want to read about them, too.
(Maybe they should just wait a year or two and read Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen, one of Hicklebee’s all-time favorites. It’s a modern classic about a girl and a boy who may or may not sort out their opposites-attract relationship.)
Parents are another matter. This is a book to remind adults just how deeply children can feel, how challenging it can be to find friends when everyone’s identity is still fluid, how confusing the first inklings of romance can be, and how hard it is to know what’s the right thing to do when baby rules and kindergarten verities no longer apply. If you don’t happen to have the notes you passed in school when you were 11, Minn and Jake can bring it all back.