|Squashed, by Joan Bauer
Written by Joan Bauer
Speak, Imprint of Penguin, 1992
Ages 8-12, 194 pages, Lexile 930
about 48,400 words
I was preparing my secret booster solution of one part buttermilk, two parts Orange Crush, and about to inject it into the thick stem of my world-class Big Max—technically a variety of squash, but often the winner in giant pumpkin contests. I called him Max for short. He was the biggest squash I had ever grown— 107 inches wide around his middle—which put him over three hundred pounds, approximately. Awesome was the only word for it, especially since this was only August. We had forty-six days to go until the Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In and Harvest Fair, where I, at sixteen years of age, am the only teenager ever to enter the adult growing division. I was facing heavy competition for the blue ribbon from Cyril Poole, four-time Weigh-In champ and a deeply despicable person. If I didn't win, I was sure I'd die, which was why I couldn't bother with anything else right now."
All Ellie can think about is her prize pumpkin, Max. He's her confidant and security blanket in a way. Though Max is just a vegetable, Ellie goes to him for comfort and refuge from her teenage troubles. Sometimes, it's like he's taking care of her. Her dad doesn't understand her. She's awkward and nerdy, in a growers-kind-of-way. She is smitten with Wes, the new boy in school, and she is constantly at war about her desire to weigh less and her desire for comfort food.
Everything in Ellie's life is a dichotomy. She is driven and absolutely sure of herself, and yet she struggles with self-image and others' perception of her. Ellie says she can't bother with anything else, but the book is about just the opposite. She takes pains to build a relationship with her dad, she wants to impress Wes, she diets on and off again, and she spends precious time despising her rival pumpkin grower, Cyril Poole.
Ellie's strong voice, genuine teen-age mutability, and penchant for comparing life to a vegetable patch make this a book I couldn't put down. I just had to review it here because, while it was the first and probably not the best of Joan Bauer's amazing novels, it is largely unsung. Thankfully, Speak has put the story back in print with a new cover and a new chance at popularity. It's hard to get readers excited about a story where the MC grows a prize pumpkin (trust me, I've tried) but I am convinced they will see a part of themselves in her inner struggles, whether they live in the city or the heartland.
1. If you enjoyed Squashed, I recommend anything else by Joan Bauer, particularly Hope Was Here or Rules of the Road, which are even better. But don't take my word for it, read reviews by other MMGMers.
|Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer
|Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer
|Soar, by Joan Bauer
Reviewed by The Paige Turner
Close To Famous
Reviewed by Jenni Enzor, Shannon Messenger, That's Another Story, and Mrs. Yingling Reads.
Reviewed by Always in the Middle
Reviews by The Hopeful Heroine and Mrs. Yingling Reads.
3. The crux of what Joan's books represent is encapsulized in these ten short video clips from AdLit.
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 November 28, 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?