August 17, 2017

Because Middle Grade Sleuthing: Macky Reads Shadow of a Pug

Shadow of a Pug book cover
SO MUCH LOVE for Shadow of a Pug. This book is the real deal. We’re talking elementary school flashback, and thus, a reminder that kids really do have real problems. And no, I don’t mean just the type of problems like "Will that person ever like me?" or "What will my schoolmates think?" I'm talking about friends growing apart and becoming enemies. Parents getting divorced. Bullies and worse yet, friends who become bullies. 

I was going to start this review with a quippy one-liner like, “So, apparently middle grade noir is a trend in middle-grade books”, just because the blurb on this ARC said so. I said those exact words to Alexa (who runs ye auld book blog) after reading the blurb,  then proceeded to do a live reenactment of a narration for a fictional noir film set in grade school (which annoyed Alexa thoroughly… totally worth it) just to prove my point about how crazy obscure it is to have middle-grade noir as a genre. 

“I put my juice box down… The afternoon heat making me sweat like a hamster being eyeballed by a hungry stray. Pattie McCallahan. I hadn’t seen this dame in years. Kindergarten. Mrs. Garcia. She took my blue crayon… and my heart. But seeing her walk into the yard, pigtails done up just like they always were, bright yellow sundress. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy…” 

Something like that. (I have to stop myself because I could improv the heck out of that all night, mate).

That this particular book opens with a noir-esque tone where Howard Wallace (our favorite middle school P.I.) is getting a lecture from his dentist to cut down on the packs of gum he consumes daily (e.g. a nod to a doctor telling the main character to cut down on cigarettes) is gold. Kid goes through two packs a day. What self-respecting dentist lets that slide? None, I tell ya. None. 

But as the novel unfolds, I realize two things. 

One, this is apparently the second book in a series.
Two, the characters and their issues are so multifaceted that I could not help but be moved. 

Sure, the over-arcing plot (a.k.a. how to solve for the mystery of the stolen basketball team mascot, Spartacus the Pug), resolved itself in classic middle grade deus ex machina fashion, but again, the whole “private investigator" theme of the story is just a backdrop for complex and beautiful character journeys. 

Dry humor, witty banter, and characters who go through some very real very relatable life issues make for a beautifully crafted read. Light enough to want more, but deep enough to have it hold a special place in my heart. I have a new favorite middle-grade tag team, and their names are Howard and Ivy of Mason and Wallace Investigations. (Sorry, Howard. It’s just better named this way.) 

Shadow of a Pug by Casey Lyall | Series: Howard Wallace, P.I. #2
Previous Book in Series: Howard Wallace, P.I.
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books | Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Source: ARC from BEA 2017 (Thanks!)


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