The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow, 240 pp, RL 5
I have been a huge fan Amy Ignatow's superior notebook novel series The Popularity Papers since reviewing the first book back in 2010. And, Ignatow's is the only series where I have reviewed every single book as it is published. I definitely have favorite trilogies and series that I keep up with but rarely do I have the time to continue reviewing the books as they are published. I felt so passionately about the marvelous characters and storylines in Ignatow's series about two best friends navigating the rough waters of middle school (and family, at times) that, with each new release in this seven book series, I wanted readers to know about it - and I also wanted to talk about each book. If you aren't familiar with this series, I hope you will seek it out, either before or after you read the first book in Ignatow's new series, The Mighty Odds!
With The Mighty Odds, Ignatow is back and better than ever! Doing what she does best, Ignatow has created a compelling cast of very diverse characters in this novel that is filled with fantastic illustrations and occasional full page comics, giving readers first person glimpses into the minds of this unexpected group of kids. In The Mighty Odds, there are the popular kids and the weirdos, the bullies and the bullied. But those are the labels others give them, and they give themselves. There is so much more to Ignatow's characters than their social status. Cookie (Daniesha) Parker is one of the few African Americans in Muellersville, PA. Aware of how she is looked at when she walks into a fancy store with her friends, Cookie is also the most popular girl at Deborah Read Middle School (how cool is that? Ignatow named the school after Benjamin Franklin's wife who was an inventor, printer, thinker and Founding Father!), wielding her own kind of power. In fact, Cookie is the one who first called Farshad "Terror Boy." Farshad is Iranian-American, the child of two doctors. His world shrinks painfully when the nickname sticks and his friends fall away. Ignatow writes masterfully of his loneliness, distrust of his peers and attempts to move beyond this by being the top student in the school. In fact, it must be noted that she writes masterfully about a cast of diverse characters, which is a hot topic in children's books these days. Unlike another book I just reviewed, their are no knowing nods to the diversity of this group of kids from a narrator or the kids themselves. Nor does Ignatow not make The Mighty Odds a book overtly about diversity an acceptance, another tack some authors take, and something she could have easily done considering the plot and characters. Ignatow delivers the best kind of writing, writing that I think all readers who are looking for more diversity in kid's books are longing for - diverse characters who are not immediately defined by their diversity but are as expected and instantly relatable as the traditional white boy of middle grade novels.
The Mighty Odds begins with a class field trip to Philadelphia. The kids pile into two busses - the sleek coach with DVD players and the old, yellow short bus. Of course the popular kids maneuver it so that the oddballs end up on the short bus. However, when Cookie and her friend get caught sneaking away from the class, part of their punishment requires Cookie to ride on the short bus with the pudgy Nick, best friend to the loudly, embarrassingly quirky Jay (who has a massive crush on Cookie, referring to her as his "black orchid"), Farshad and Martina, the daughter of Russian immigrants, called "Martian" by her sister, unnoticed by everyone else. Much to his chagrin, Jay gets bumped from the bus by Mr. Friend, a slightly goofy sub who whips out a yo-yo to entertain the kids. This turns out to be a good thing when, on the way home, the bus crashes in the heat of a lightning storm leaving Farshad, Cookie, Martina and Nick with strange powers. As the story unfolds, the four learn that Mr. Friend, the bus driver and Abe Zook, the Amish boy who comes to their rescue after the crash, have also developed curious powers.
Just as the first book in the The Mighty Odds series is drawing to a close, the kids get a clue as to what may have given them their "okayish powers," as Cookie thinks of them. Martina can change her eye color, Cookie can hear people's thoughts - but only when they are thinking about directions, Farshad has has super strength, but only in his thumbs and Nick can teleport, but only four inches to the left. Mr. Friend, the bus driver, Abe and even Abe's horse leave the crash with super-okayish powers also, but you'll just have to read this fantastic book to find out what they are!
Source: Review Copy