I often forget about middle grade books. With young adult fiction stealing the spotlight and tons of adult fiction titles taking up space on my Kindle, middle grade gets lost in the pile. And it shouldn’t. Some of my fondest reading memories revolve around these not-quite-kiddie, not-quite-teenage titles. These characters were my friends. I realized I wanted to be a writer when I realized that in the pages of books, the characters of authors’ imaginations could come alive.
And yes, there are the classic middle grade titles like Ella Enchanted and Holes that every young bookworm should read, but I’m happy to see that there are some great new protagonists coming on the scene, too.
Like Maggie Mayfield.
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern stars Maggie Mayfield who, at the age of twelve, decides to write a memoir of her “most important year.” This is the year before, and the story begins on Maggie’s eleventh birthday. Maggie is an overly-ambitious middle schooler with dreams of becoming the President of the United States, and her life revolves around her pursuit of knowledge.
Family is the center of this novel: Maggie struggles to relate to her “hot” older sisters, she constantly tries to get her overworked mother’s attention, and she wants desperately to understand – and fix – her father’s multiple sclerosis.
Maggie’s father is one of Maggie’s favorite people. He is a “cool dad” who jokes around and makes his family listen to his record collection during dinner. He is forced to quit his job as his disease worsens, and he is cared for by his wife and daughters. He remains optimistic in spite of his condition, and it’s obvious his family adores him.
Although Maggie wins tons of school awards and has quite an advanced vocabulary, she does not understand (or comically misunderstands) “adult” situations. Maggie’s parents drink cocktails with “1/4 Coke and 3/4 bad stuff,” and her parents have a photo album from their hippie days with one page dedicated to “a leaf.”
Maggie thinks her father’s legs are sleeping. Only after reading the M encyclopedia does she begin to comprehend multiple sclerosis. And despite the fact that she appears adult-like when she discusses the stocks and the oil crisis, Maggie wears a lucky scarf, tattles on her older sisters, eats a lot of candy, and gets nervous about gym class. Despite feeling mature, she is still a kid in dire situations, and her father’s disease presents a challenge that Maggie must learn to work through.
Serious subject matter aside, The Meaning of Maggie is a funny book. The story, told in first person point of view, is narrated in Maggie’s overeager know-it-all voice. She is the definition of precocious, so there’s a lot of back-patting, but it’s funny. The excessive use of footnotes bothered me, as they did not add much to the story in terms of content. However, young readers may enjoy these humorous asides.
Some of the jokes, or Maggie’s hilarious misinterpretations, may go over the heads of middle grade readers. As a 23-year-old, I got a kick out of the humor. I think this book would be a great option to share with the younger children in your life. And by that I mean buy it for your younger brother and sister and then steal it to read yourself. Share the joy of the written word, you know?