Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff

This was a sweet and light gem of a middle grade novel. Brian is absolutely miserable at the prospect of spending his summer with his aunt, uncle, and cousin Nora in Boring, Illinois. His brothers are doing cool stuff - spending the summer with friends or at cool internships. Even his dad is taking off for the South Pole, which is the reason Brian is stuck in Boring in the first place.

When he arrives, things get even worse - his uncle has decided to test his new educational computer software on Nora and Brian and they have to attend summer school every day. Nora is unfriendly and completely uninterested in soccer or anything interesting - all she wants to do is write in her secret notebook. Boring is, in fact, extremely boring.

Then Brian has an argument and runs into the woods he's been told to stay out and, of course, gets lost. The next thing he knows he and Nora have discovered the craziest old house/castle/ruin they've ever seen and summer gets a lot more exciting.

It's not long before the eccentric Van Dashes are a big part of Nora and Brian's life and the two are trying to keep their wacky house from being torn down, even if the Van Dashes don't seem to notice they're in imminent danger. While Brian's aunt and uncle would be perfectly happy for everything in Boring, Illinois to be the same old boring color, shape, and behavior, Brian and Nora have decided they want something a little bit more interesting. Brian struggles to figure out what makes the Van Dashes tick and Nora wavers between her interest in the literary family of explorers and her own loyalty to her family. It all ends in a climactic stand-off (complete with explosions, wild boars, battering rams, a missing author, and a midnight break-in at City Hall).

This is the kind of rambling summer adventure that I remember reading in the summer. It's not necessarily realistic, but it grabs the imagination and will be thoroughly enjoyable for kids who want to imagine an exciting alternative to their everyday life and those who enjoy mysterious and rambling houses with lots of secrets. It's also quite funny!

Verdict: A good addition to your summer reading repertoire, light and funny with some humorous digs at following the crowd and doing your own thing.

ISBN: 9780101996225; Published 2017 by G. P. Putnam's Sons; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

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