A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Me and Marvin Gardens is by Amy Sarig King, who's already made a name for herself in young adult literature as A.S. King (Ask the Passengers) and here moves smoothly into middle grade. This sensitive and thoughtful book is narrated by Obe, an 11-year-old boy who lives in rural Pennsylvania as it transitions to suburban development. The tracts of land being developed were once a farm owned by his family, and Obe mourns the loss of his beloved cornfields. King skillfully weaves in larger and thought-provoking environmental themes and also touches on sexual consent with some bullying boys and a quick middle school kiss. Though this book has a fantastical element, its true strength lies in the absolute authenticity of Obe's voice and perceptions as he navigates a disappointing friendship and stays true to his core values.
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What's the story?
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is narrated by 11-year-old Obe, who lives in an old house next to a new subdivision development built on land that used to belong to his family. Before the suburb filled up with new kids, Obe and his best friend Tommy wandered the cornfields and played in the creek. But now Tommy's taken up with a new crowd of insensitive, bullying boys. Obe's an environmentally conscious kid, always picking up litter, so he's fascinated when he spots a fantastic hybrid animal who eats the plastic refuse discarded all over the new development, but whose own waste may be toxic. He names the animal Marvin Gardens after the property in the Monopoly board game, an irony not lost on him. When the other boys find out about Marvin, and the adults accuse Obe of vandalism, Obe must hide and protect his animal friend while navigating shifting social pressures with his peers.
Is it any good?
This story about a boy and his (not quite) dog has an unusual fantasy element, is environmentally themed, and is narrated with pinpoint emotional honesty by a refreshingly thoughtful, sensitive boy. Just like the odd hybrid animal portrayed, Me and Marvin Gardens is an unusual mix, a contemporary coming-of-age story with a dash of the fantastic, all confidently handled by author Amy Sarig King. Obe's an eminently likeable narrator with an irresistible kid voice that carries the reader easily along. And though he’s on the "right" side of every hot topic issue -- conservation, sexual consent -- other characters argue different points of view, thus encouraging readers to think critically and enter into debate.
King finds fictional ways to weave larger facts about the environment into the story, and make connections to American history. She's said that this book was a labor of love, giving her a chance to express feelings she herself had growing up in a rural area bulldozed into a suburb, and her connection's evident, making this gem truly shine.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the environmental issues in Me and Marvin Gardens. How does the author weave in facts about the environment that affect the world at large, not just the town in the book? Were you aware of the serious problems caused by plastic? How can we reduce our use of it?
Why do you think the author included a fantasy animal in an otherwise realistic story?
What qualities make Obe likable? What qualities help you identify with him?
- Author: Amy Sarig King
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
- Publication date: January 31, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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