Marshmallow reviews Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Today Marshmallow chose to review Save Me A Seat, a 2016 novel by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

Marshmallow reviews Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.
Marshmallow reviews Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about school and friendship, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Joey’s friends move away at the same time that a new kid moves into town. The new kid Ravi has just moved to America from India. Joey hopes that the school bully Dillon (who calls Joey Puddy Tat and whom Joey suspects to be a kleptomaniac) will pick on the new kid. However, Dillon is also of Indian heritage, so Ravi wants to be friends with him.

Ravi does not know that Dillon is a bully. After Ravi answers a math problem on the board, Dillon trips Ravi, but pegs it on Joey. Also, when Ravi’s school materials fall to the ground, Joey and Ravi hit their heads when trying to pick them up. Joey considers befriending Ravi, but Ravi thinks that Joey has it in for him, and believes that Dillon is his friend. 

Ravi has an accent so his teacher, Mrs. Beam, thinks that he should go visit a special education teacher named Miss Frost. Joey has also been seeing Miss Frost, as he has Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Ravi is angry that he is being sent to Miss Frost. He was top of his class in his previous school, and he has an IQ of 135, according to him. He believes that he is “not like” Joey. 

However, Ravi soon learns that Dillon is a bully when Dillon tricks him into trying meat, even though Ravi is a vegetarian. Dillon starts calling Ravi “Curryhead”. When this starts happening, Ravi realizes that at his school in India, he was like Dillon. He had bullied a student who had issues with reading. Ravi realizes that he is getting a taste of his own medicine.

Marshmallow is reading Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.
Marshmallow is reading Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

Marshmallow’s Review: I think that an interesting feature of Save Me A Seat is that it is written in the perspective of two people. The chapters alternate between Ravi’s perspective and Joey’s. I believe that Sarah Weeks wrote the chapters for Joey, and Gita Varadarajan wrote the chapters for Ravi. This is similar to another book that I read, To Night Owl From Dogfish, where one author wrote the emails for one character, and the other author wrote the emails for the other. 

I think that the author for Ravi made an interesting choice. In Ravi’s chapter, the author tends to write lists like: 

“I want to say:
1. My English is fine.
2. I don’t need Miss Frost.
3. I was top of my class at Vidya Mandir.
But here is what I do instead:
1. Push up my glasses.
2. Rub my nose.
3. Sit down and fold my hands.”

(Vidya Mandir was his school in India.) It is interesting to see the events from the perspectives of both characters. For example, when Dillon trips Ravi, both Joey and Ravi retell the event differently.

Another interesting feature of the book is that all events take place in the course of one school week. The authors split the book into sections, one for every school day in the first week of school. The section titles tell the reader the day of the week and the school lunch that day (like Wednesday, Chili and Friday, Pizza). It gets you in the mood for school!

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.

Marshmallow rates Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan 95%.
Marshmallow rates Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan 95%.

Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Today Marshmallow reviews Front Desk, the 2018 book by Kelly Yang.

Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang.
Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like reading books to learn about different people’s lives, or if you simply want to read about an immigrant girl and her life (in school and elsewhere), then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Mia Tang and her family immigrated to America with dreams of a large house with a dog and lots of hamburgers.

“My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I’m still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.”

When Mia’s parents, who had been searching for a job, find out that the Calivista Motel needs a manager, and that the job comes with free boarding, they take the job. Unfortunately, they soon learn that the owner, Mr. Yao, is a very unpleasant man. He doesn’t want them to use the pool, as it might “encourage” the customers to swim, which he claims is bad for the environment. (The real reason is that keeping the pool clean costs money.) If anything breaks, Mr. Yao has Mia’s parents pay for it. He also has a son named Jason, who tries to emulate his father’s behavior and is rude to Mia.

One of the good things about the Calivista Motel is that Mia gets to help with the managing. She works at the front desk and presses the button to let people in to the motel. When she gets this assignment, Mr. Yao tells her to make sure not to “let bad people in”. As the book progresses, we learn that Mr. Yao meant “black people” when he said bad people. However Mia and her family are a lot more open minded. Over time, Mia starts to become friends with the weeklies, people who stay in the motel long term, in a way that is almost like renting. And Mia’s parents eventually start to let immigrants stay in the Calivista Motel for free. The immigrants tell their stories to Mia and her parents. One of them is now in debt to loan sharks. Another one’s previous boss took their IDs and passports. Some of them are looking for jobs. Many of them are facing a lot of challenges in their lives.

Marshmallow is reading Front Desk by Kelly Yang.
Marshmallow is reading Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Mia starts school, and makes friends with a girl named Lupe. Unfortunately, Mr. Yao’s son Jason is also in Mia’s class. Mia pretends that she has a house with a pool and her family has a golden retriever.

At some point, Mia finds out about a contest to win a motel. Her family is not getting a fair amount of money, so the possibility of owning her own motel seems incredible to Mia. However, the contest is an essay contest, and Mia has been having trouble with the tenses. Will she be able to win the motel?

Here is the author’s introduction to the book:

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (posted by Scholastic on YouTube).

Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Front Desk is a great book. It is realistic and moving. I think that the author, Kelly Yang, did a great job of writing a book that evokes so many feelings in the reader. I have learned that the author actually based this book off of her own experiences. Maybe that is one of the reasons everything is so convincing and touching.

I also enjoyed it when, later in the book, Mia takes matters into her own hands and writes letters to people in order to change her friends’ lives for the better. She writes as the manager of the Calivista Motel, but also, once, as a lawyer (though she is of course not a lawyer). Still her writing plays an important role, throughout the book. Even though Mia enjoys English a lot at school, her mother thinks that she should stick to math: she tells her, “You know what you are in English? You’re a bicycle, and the other kids are cars.” It is good to see that her writing turns out to be so valuable in the end!

Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.

Marshmallow rates Front Desk by Kelly Yang 100%.
Marshmallow rates Front Desk by Kelly Yang 100%.

Marshmallow reviews Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Today Marshmallow reviews Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, published first in 2002. Sprinkles read the book, too, and is asking questions to Marshmallow and taking notes as they go along.

Marshmallow reviews Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.
Marshmallow reviews Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, let us start with an overview of the book. What is the book about?

Marshmallow: It’s about this boy named Roy Eberhardt who has recently moved to Miami, Florida. One day while he is on the school bus, he sees a strange boy running outside without shoes. And the book is about him trying to find out who that boy is.

S: That sounds like the beginning of a good mystery. Would you say this is a mystery story?

M: Yes. It takes a while for Roy to figure out who that boy is and what is going on with him.

S: And then, the book is not yet over, though, right?

M: There is a second mystery in the book. There is a second narrator, besides Roy, who sees some other events happening, and he is also trying to figure out just what is going on. This one is a police officer named David Delinko.

S: And the two events end up being intertwined, right?

M: Yes. And things are tied in and resolved quite well at the end.

Marshmallow is reading Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.
Marshmallow is reading Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

S: It sounds like you enjoyed reading this book Marshmallow.

M: Yes, I did. I thought the two mysteries being related was really neat, like a typical Nancy Drew story. Or like in the FunJungle series.

S: And I know you really liked both Nancy Drew stories and all the FunJungle books. So that is a compliment, coming from you!

M: Yes. I especially thought the plot was very interesting.

S: You wanted to add “bullying” to the tags for the post. Why is that?

M: Because there is an older boy at school who bullies Roy, and that is actually why Roy comes to notice the running boy. And then the bullying is related to how things evolve and are resolved, too.

S: The bully gets his comeuppance, right?

M: Yes, but I don’t want to give too much away.

S: I know. Okay, let us not say much more about that then. What else do you want to tell us about this book?

M: When you interview Caramel about books, you ask him for three words to describe the book. So I think three words that could describe this book are animal-friendly, fast-paced, and mystery. Or maybe I’d describe the book as “animal-friendly, fast-paced school mystery”. That’s not three words, but then again, I am not Caramel.

S: That makes sense to me, Marshmallow. And that is a good description of this book. We did not say much about the animal-friendly part but I suppose our readers might guess that from the title.

M: Yes, “hoot” is the sound owls make. So the readers might already guess there will be some owls somewhere.

S: Yes, I think that is quite reasonable. We rabbits may not like owls much, but the owls in this book are cute and lovable. Right?

M: Yes. They are nothing like Mr. Ocax in Poppy. They’re more like Rufus in Of a Feather.

S: Okay, Marshmallow, I think it is time for us to wrap up this review. What would you rate this book?

M: I’d rate it 95%. It is a good read and the two mysteries keep you wanting to read it fast.

Marshmallow rates Hoot by Carl Hiaasen 95%.
Marshmallow rates Hoot by Carl Hiaasen 95%.

Marshmallow reviews Nothing But The Truth by Avi

Marshmallow first read Avi’s Nothing But The Truth in school. Then this summer, during the book bunnies’ break, she had reason to get back to this documentary novel once more. Below she shares her thoughts on this book, first written in 1991 by Avi, the author of the Tales from Dimwood Forest series that Caramel reviewed several times times for this blog.

Marshmallow reviews Nothing But The Truth: a documentary novel by Avi.
Marshmallow reviews Nothing But The Truth: a documentary novel by Avi.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about school or you like thinking about different perspectives on a particular event, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Philip Malloy is a high school student who loves running but dislikes his English teacher. He thinks that she is out to get him. When he learns that he needs to get a passing grade in every class to try out for the track team, he decides he needs to get moved out of his English class.  

His teacher, Miss Narwin, thinks that Philip is smart, but that he does not work hard. During English class, Philip constantly makes rude comments and disrupts the class. Now that he has moved to Miss Narwin’s homeroom, he starts to hum or sing during the daily playing of the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. (It is unclear whether he hums or sings, as the characters believe different things happened.) The school’s rule is to stand in respectful silence while the anthem is played, so Miss Narwin tells him to stop doing what he is doing.

Philip hums or sings during the anthem a total of three times on three different days, hoping he’ll annoy his teacher enough to be moved to a different class. The third time he does it, Miss Narwin tells him to go to the office. There, the assistant principal asks him to apologize to Miss Narwin. Philip refuses, though he is threatened with suspension and a bad mark on his record. Eventually he is suspended and his mother is called to pick him up.

Philip tells his parents that Miss Narwin yelled at him for singing or humming. His parents tell their neighbor Ted Griffen about the event. Griffen is running for the school board, so when he hears about this story, he wants to have it published in the papers. He contacts a journalist to ask some questions about the event, and soon, the journalist writes an article about the event titled “Kicked Out Of School For Patriotism”. The article spreads the news about Philip’s suspension, and soon, people around the country have all heard about the event.

People start to send telegrams to the school, Miss Narwin, and Philip Malloy. The telegrams to the school say that they should fire Miss Narwin. The ones to Miss Narwin say things like, “Surely you have something better to do with your classroom authority than attacking kids who express their love of our country.” The telegrams sent to Philip support his “patriotism”. As the book progresses, it gets harder and harder to tell what really happened and who is telling the truth. 

Marshmallow is reading Nothing But The Truth: a documentary novel by Avi.
Marshmallow is reading Nothing But The Truth: a documentary novel by Avi.

Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Nothing But The Truth is a really interesting book. It is written like a play when there is dialogue (with minimal narration), but the author also shows us excerpts from Philip’s diary, memos, letters, and more. I can see why it is called a documentary novel: it seems to be documenting a real event with different kinds of documents that the reader needs to interpret to understand what really happened. I also found it interesting to read Avi’s explanation of how he ended up writing this book.

The characters themselves are really realistic, with normal hobbies and everything, though they are not always trustable (similar to books or movies with unreliable narrators). The author, Avi, does a great job in making you feel really annoyed by certain characters. And you also sympathize with some of them.

I really liked how Nothing But The Truth keeps you thinking about what really has happened and how you can’t always trust the information that you are given. Its central story has many different interpretations, and what is true, and what is right, is not always what it seems.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.

Marshmallow rates Nothing But The Truth by Avi 95%.
Marshmallow rates Nothing But The Truth by Avi 95%.