Monday, October 31, 2016

MMGM: The Scourge

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

The Scourge, by Jennifer A Nielsen
The Scourge

Written by Jennifer A Nielson
Cover art by Tim O'Brien

Scholastic Press, 2016
Grades 4-7, 368 pages
about 66000-73000 words

Themes:
Adventure

Opening:
       Few things were worth the risk of my life, but the juicy vinefruit was one of them. Even more so today because I was long past hungry. If I didn't eat something soon, my life was in danger anyway.
       Not immediate danger. Mama had poor man's bread at home and, indeed, was expecting me back soon for supper. But I couldn't stand the thought of gnawing on those thick crusts for yet another meal. Especially not now, after spotting a vinefruit this close, in perfect ripeness.
       Getting it would be simple.
       Well, not simple in the traditional definition of the word. but simple, meaning that I intended to get that fruit if it was the last thing I ever did.


Thoughts:
I couldn't get enough of The False Prince the first time I read it. Although I spotted many of the twists ahead of time, I admired the author's skill in misdirecting the reader's attention, yet leaving the clues in plain sight. Is it any wonder Jennifer Nielsen lists J. K Rowling as one of her favorite authors?

So I went into The Scourge with pretty high (and perhaps unfairly unrealistic) expectations. To be honest, this book did not grab me in the first few chapters. The main character's voice is there, but something about the opening didn't glue me to the page the way her other books had. But I knew from experience that sometimes you have to come at a book more than once, or turn off the critical part of your writer's brain and read a little faster.

I am happy to report, after a halting start, the story takes off and Nielsen hits her stride. Readers will be swept into the chaotic runaway train that is Ani's story and laugh at her Puckish antics. Her character is brilliant, really. And the friendship that is revealed between her and her bestie Weevil is written with skill and sagacity.

I had a few nitpicks near the end, but only because Jennifer's earlier work is so blasted impressive.

After a bout of depression for feeling so critical, I read "the first 15,000 words of this story fought [Nielsen] like a cursed beast from the depths of Hades ..." She had "...at least a dozen failed starts for this story that kept leading me to dead ends. I wrote both my agent and editor to say I might not be able to write this. I quit sleeping. I ate a lot of ice cream. Then I took a deep breath and decided I needed to think about this story in an entirely different way. Only then did I start to put the right story down on the page."

For that reason. This book gets five stars. Without Jennifer's courageous perseverance and the insight of her supporters, we wouldn't have the entertaining roller coaster ride that is The Scourge.

Bonus: 
 1. If you enjoyed The Scourge, I recommend The Ascendance Trilogy, which is better in my opinion. But don't take my word for it, read reviews by the other MMGMers.

Ascendance Trilogy: The False Prince, The Runaway King,
and The Shadow Throne. Cover art by Ken Choi.
The False Prince
Reviews by Mundie Kids, The Hopeful Heroine, and Laurisa White Reyes.

The Runaway King
Reviews by The Hopeful Heroine, Geo Librarian, and Mrs. Yingling Reads.

The Shadow Throne
Review by The Hopeful Heroine

2. Literary Rambles and The Book Cellar have each posted interviews with the author.

3. If you want a peek into Jennifer's writing process, she has posted a 3-part look at editing The Scourge.

4. Other books by Jennifer Nielsen

Reviewed by Book Dreaming
Cover art by Gideon Kendall
Reviewed by Tales From the Raven
Cover by Larry Rostant



Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for October 31, 2016.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

2 comments:

  1. I have yet to read any of Jennifer's books, but your review of THE SCOURGE convinces me I must do so right away. Thanks for your insights and the links to all of her other stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL I made it sound good, but now I hope you like her writing as much as I do....pressure!

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