Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: The Fourth Stall

The Fourth Stall

by Chris Rylander

I had my doubts when I first saw the cover of The Fourth Stall (a spoof on the movie poster of "The Godfather"). Would middle grade readers be interested in (or get) the references made to the crime/mafia drama genre? But my doubts were soon laid to rest. The Fourth Stall is clever, unique and thoroughly entertaining. I wasn't the only one who loved the playful tone of this novel. Several of my students read it after I raved about it in class, and it was a big hit all around.

The Fourth Stall starts strong with the likable voice of Mac. He's not your typical 6th-grader. Mac is pretty much the "godfather" of his school. When kids need help (with a test, a bully, getting into an R-rated movie), Mac is the one they turn to. The title refers to Mac's "office," which is set up in a rarely-used bathroom in Mac's school. (The office was obtained through one of Mac's most valuable "connections"--the school janitor.) Mac is a kind-hearted kid, but also a shrewd businessman (with the help of his best friend/business manager Vince). Mac and Vince have enjoyed uninterrupted business since kindergarten, until a legendary bully that goes by the name "Staples" is rumored to be running an illegal gambling ring right under their noses. Staples becomes a threat to everything Mac and Vince have worked for (namely, the World Series Cubs tickets they have been saving for since their first day of business).

The Fourth Stall had me cracking up (somewhat embarrassingly) in public places--reading on the train, for example. There is just something so endearing and witty about Mac's tough mobster tone being used to talk about things like recess, bullies, substitute teachers and riding his bike. This contrast on tone and content makes for a lot of humor. But The Fourth Stall does not make fun of its characters the way many spoof novels do. Often, when writers decide to spoof on a genre, they do not take the time to develop realistic, likable, sympathetic characters. But Mac and Vince completely pulled me in. Their feelings were real to me and I found myself on the edge of my seat, hoping that their business (and friendship) wouldn't crumble the way Staples seemed to want it to.

The Fourth Stall has it all--laughs, tension, excitement, engaging characters, a message. Whether you're a fan of mafia/crime fiction or not, you'll get a kick out of this playful twist.

Original release date: February, 2011

Things to think about while reading The Fourth Stall:
-Genre conventions/Spoofs (How does the book make fun of/mimic the conventions of the mafia/crime fiction genre?)
-Conflict (What external conflicts does Mac face? What internal conflicts?)
-Foreshadowing (Which moments drop hints about what might happen later in the book? Which moment seems fishy to you?)
-Juxtaposition of tone and content (Notice how Rylander creates humor by juxtaposing the content--what is being talked about--with the tone--the way its being talked about.)

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