I mightn’t have come across this title if it hadn’t ended up in a big box of books I’m reading right now for an awards committee I’ve joined. I’m happy that it found its way to me, because it’s a satisfying, well-written, not-very-long middle grade title that I’ll be happy to slide into my classroom library. The Mealworm Diaries is Anna Kerz’s debut novel and it is the story of Jeremy, a kid who moves from rural Nova Scotia to Toronto, after a tragedy in his family. Here’s some of the jacket copy:
Mealworms are small creatures that live in dark secret places. Jeremy is a bit like that when he and his mother leave their home in rural Nova Scotia and go to live in Toronto. Not only does Jeremy have a secret that keeps him from enjoying his new life, he also has a science partner who is more annoying than sand in a bathing suit.
This is a school / friendship / family story, about a kid struggling to get his life back after a terrible loss. Not exactly new territory, but I will say that Kerz has worked the material respectably, creating a plot that really keeps moving, and establishing a thoroughly convincing school setting, with a strong dynamic between the student characters. Jeremy comes through as a fairly rounded character, but it’s Aaron, his highly unusual science partner and wannabe best friend, who leaps from the page. He is 99% annoying and 100% endearing. Just about everyone has known a kid a bit like Aaron. You know the type who says whatever he’s thinking and never stops moving for a second. Any teacher will recognize Aaron. The way that Kerz has conveyed this character indicates that she’s a new writer worth watching. In my view, the ending is way too tidy, too easy and “all’s well that ends well” to be fully satisfying. Still, as a whole, the novel certainly works and feels carefully constructed. For fans of Joey Pigza and Andrew Clements’ novels, The Mealworm Diaries will leave fans of realistic fiction feeling good and ready for whatever Kerz is working on next.
The Mealworm Diaries is published by Orca.