Recently, a very happy-making email popped into my INBOX. Ms. Ellen Potter (she of Olivia Kidney and Pish Posh fame), wrote to offer me an ARC of her soon-to-be released book, SLOB. I said, “YES PLEASE ELLEN!” and she very kindly obliged.
First, automatic bonus points for the fact that SLOB has a cookie on the cover. If I ever write a book, I will press for a cookie on the cover, and preferably, said cookie will have a bite out of it and some crumbs too. Cookies play a key part in the plot in this wonderful, hug-worthy book. Our hero, Owen Birnbaum is 12 years old, and he’s 57% fatter than the average boy his age. This is not all that is exceptional about Owen. He’s smart. Really smart. Not only that, I’d say he’s wise beyond his years too. He’s very much an outsider at school. Kids tease him. His sadistic gym teacher, Mr. Wooly, does all he can to shame Owen at every turn. In spite of this, Owen takes pleasure in small, private things: oreo cookies, inventions, his little sister Jeremy, the sound of his mom’s voice, and his momo-making friend, Nima. Life is ticking along when one day, a minor disaster strikes. Someone starts stealing the 3 Oreo cookies Owen has everyday in his lunch. As easygoing as he is, Owen is not letting this go.
Owen thinks he knows who is responsible: Mason Ragg, the super-nasty new kid with the scarred face and the switchblade in his sock. So Owen starts creating various traps to catch the thief. Meanwhile, he’s working on his most sophisticated invention ever, Nemesis, a machine that will allow him to see TV episodes that aired years before. Nemesis must succeed if Owen is to come to terms with an event that happened in his family two years ago. How all of these things come together is for you to find out. You will be delighted, and touched, by this character’s story.
I can’t think of many authors who meld whimsy and heartbreak and wonderfully realistic kid characters as naturally and confidently as Ellen Potter. Everything is just right. Just enough humor. Just enough tenderness and struggle. I appreciate an MG book that doesn’t strut characters’ issues all over the place, right from page one. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s just say that Owen has experienced his fair share of sadness, but you don’t know this until quite a ways into the story. Way to go Ellen Potter for getting that sometimes, it’s better to keep the tragedy in the background, because in fact, it can end up having a far more powerful impact on the reader when it is revealed after we feel that we know the character.
SLOB is about nurturing talent, making family work, doing what is good, and living with loss. There isn’t a single cliché in this short novel. You’ll be glad to have met Owen, and his crazy/wonderful little sister Jeremy (that’s right… I said sister. You’ll love her). This one gets 5 Oreos out of 5.
SLOB is published by Philomel.