Editor’s Note: Review Copy Provided by Rockstar Book Tours/Random House; Post Made Possible by Rockstar Book Tours
Published this past Tuesday on November 5th was J.J. Grabenstein and Chris Grabenstein’s middle-grade endeavor Shine!, a poignant tale of identity that may stumble in its melodramatic tones but soars in its boast-worthy spirit. As middle-grade novels go, Shine! represents quite possibly the new benchmark in recent years and certainly for 2019 at the very least. Shine! dazzles with its obnoxious and outrageous humor, presented in snappy dialogue, coupled with a roster of characters that leave a lasting impression; not since Lisa Thompson’s The Light Jar has a middle-grade novel been so engaging and memorable. Grabenstein’s novel stirs and shakes uncomfortable truths and topics but does so in such a well-intentioned manner that it’s hard to fault it for it even if the middle portions can devolve into the traditional school drama. Bolstered by roaring humor and sincere, thematic storytelling, Shine! truly does shine in a saturated genre, its countless elements lending for a poignant middle-grade journey for the ages.
Chronicling critical moments of Piper’s twelve-year-old life, Shine! immediately introduces Piper as a relatable and meaningful protagonist, one that successfully sustains readers’ interest across the 210 pages that the novel spans. Pressured into attending Chumley Prep, a snobby private school, Piper is immediately bombarded with the makings of a life she has never known. The premise may appear sappy on paper, even derivative, but both J.J. and Chris Grabenstein elevate the nearly bland material to something far more real. Thanks to moments of sheer dialogue that click in all of the right ways, the characters surrounding Piper’s life exhibit true layers and emotions of compassion and complexity. From Piper’s chorus instructor father to the far too comfortable students Piper meets in Chumley Prep, the two Grabensteins never broadly paint the characters with only the black-and-white colors. Such a decision makes for a narrative that is firm and tactile in all factors of its conception and execution as the events of the plot suddenly become just that much more real and honest.
On the other hand, Shine! doesn’t quite buck the trend of avoiding monotone, derivative plot devices. Plagued by multiple devices and subplot that never quite fulfill the ambitious intention of their design, the rare moments that the novel falters are the moments where the Grabensteins attempt to make the novel something that doesn’t quite fit within Shine!’s central identity. The social commentary injected here may make for mildly interesting discussion amongst its younger readers, but it doesn’t add anything beyond that, functionally only acting as red herrings both to the better and detriment of the complete experience.
However, where Shine! makes the greatest headway when compared to its similarly categorized predecessors is its pacing. With each page moving at a solid pace, readers won’t be disengaged by Grabensteins’ light-hearted prose; there’s never a moment that drags, despite the familiar material diminishing the impact of several of those moments. Having read it in under an hour, the events truly fly, soaring at a speed that offers the density its authors have clearly intended but also the fluidity middle-grade readers want. In conclusion, Shine! sets the new benchmark for the middle-grade genre, melding layered characters and a dynamic narrative. The pair of Grabensteins may not have created the most original middle grade novel to hit the scene, but it certainly ranks as one of the most enjoyable.
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"Inspirational, commonsensical, and a whole lot of fun." --James Patterson
Everyone deserves to shine in this sparkling new book from the New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library , Chris Grabenstein, and coauthor J.J. Grabenstein--just right for fans of Word of Mouse and The Fourteenth Goldfish.
"Who do you want to be?" asks Mr. Van Deusen. "And not when you grow up. Right here, right now."
Shine on! might be the catchphrase of twelve-year-old Piper's hero--astronaut, astronomer, and television host Nellie Dumont Frisse--but Piper knows the truth: some people are born to shine, and she's just not one of them. That fact has never been clearer than now, since her dad's new job has landed them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely doesn't fit in.
Bursting with humor, heart, science, possibilities, and big questions, Shine! is a story about finding your place in the universe--a story about figuring out who you are and who you want to be.
Author: J.J. Grabenstein & Chris Grabenstein
Pub. Date: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
About JJ & Chris:
J.J. Grabenstein is the co-author, with her husband, ChrisGrabenstein, of SHINE! This is her first novel as a co-authorbut she has been the "first editor" on everything her husband hasever written, including the award-winning/bestselling ESCAPE FROMMR.LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY series and more than fifty other works.
J.J. and Chris live in New York City with their cat Phoebe Squeak.
CHRIS GRABENSTEIN is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY, MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY OLYMPICS, THE ISLAND OF DR. LIBRIS, WELCOME TO WONDERLAND: HOME SWEET MOTEL and many other books, as well as the coauthor of numerous fun and funny page-turners with James Patterson, including I FUNNY, HOUSE OF ROBOTS, TREASURE HUNTERS, and JACKY HA-HA. Chris lives in New York City with his wife, J.J., two cats, and a dog named Fred. You can visit Chris at ChrisGrabenstein.com.