The Legend of Greg: Failures, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Legend of Greg: Failures, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Middle Earth meets Chicago in wild magical Dwarf tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Set in Chicago, The Legend of Greg offers a lot of detail on local sights, sounds, and attractions.

Positive Messages

Family, friendship, and loyalty are strong themes, as is kindness, which often has positive and unexpected rewards. Also, be careful of magical weapons, which may solve your problem now but will come back to get you later.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Greg's discovery that he's a Dwarf is the start of some life-changing character developments, like newfound courage and optimism (however ill-founded). Wiser readers will have a "what could possibly go wrong?" moment as Greg succumbs to the siren call of the Bloodletter, a famous weapon that solves all your problems now and comes back to get you later. But Greg is driven by devotion to his kidnapped father, as well as friendship with his new Dwarven friends. Greg's father is kindly, odd, and a good deal more than he first appears. Other adult characters are strange but kind mentors.

Violence & Scariness

Some characters perish in cosmic conflicts.  Dwarves and Elves have committed many atrocities against each other over the centuries (and probably made others up). Greg's father is wounded and captured. Greg takes on a bully who's tormenting one of his classmates and magically breaks the bully's hand. One of the Dwarven characters really wants to smash Elves. Animals hate Dwarves and attack them whenever possible.

Language

Greg exclaims "Holy crap!" on receiving a gift. Gross-out and bathroom humor aplenty, with poop, pee, farts, butts, and unspeakable toilets. Greg's school, the Isaacson Preparatory Empowerment Establishment, is known as I-PEE. Elven characters use an insulting racist term for Dwarves. Dwarves do the same for Elves.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Legend of Greg is the first book in a new series by Chris Rylander, involving a 13-year-old Chicago boy whose drab, boring life changes dramatically when he learns that he's a Dwarf (like in Middle Earth) and his father is carried off by a monster. Also that his best (and only) friend's family, who, it turns out, are Elves (also like in Middle Earth), are very likely behind the whole thing, and cosmic forces are in play that are about to change everything. Grossout humor, especially pee, poop, and farts, is a constant amid the magic weapons, world-building, and wisecracks. Beards and mustaches are considered signs of beauty among Dwarven women. Much of the story deals with brewing hatred and distrust among groups with a long history of disliking one another, which resonates a good deal with current events. Kindness pays off, as do creative thinking and teamwork, but dark forces are in play and things aren't always what they seem. Real-life consumer products (such as iPhone, Dr Pepper) are part of the scene-setting.

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What's the story?

THE LEGEND OF GREG involves 13-year-old Greg Belmont, a fat and bullied kid whose equally unglamorous father runs a shop selling organic soaps and teas in Chicago. One day he sneaks a drink of a new tea his dad told him to stay away from, and weird things start happening. A polar bear attacks him. So does a bully, whose hand gets broken in the process. When monsters carry his dad off from the shop, Greg learns that everything he knows is pretty much wrong: He's not human, he's a Dwarf, and he may have a crucial role to play in some world-changing magic that's brewing. But first, he's got to save his dad. And deal with the fact that his best friend is an Elf. And learn the secrets of Dwarven life.

Is it any good?

Author Chris Rylander brings the Dwarves and Elves of Middle Earth, along with cosmic conflict, middle-school bullies, and bathroom humor, to modern-day Chicago, where mayhem quickly ensues. There are also some relatable moments as The Legend of Greg unfolds, and its unlikely hero has unexpected moments of triumph. Many of the story elements seem a bit half-baked, possibly signaling a long, chaotic story arc to come.

"I was sitting in an underground cavern where kids were crafting weapons, brewing potions, and spelunking just for fun. That made it easier to simply nod and go along with everything. I still wasn't sure how much I really believed any of this. But it surprised me how much I wanted to. Suddenly I was kind of excited about possibly being a part of something huge and cool -- knowing that I wasn't just some kid from a loser family so cursed that we all accepted our bad luck with big, dumb smiles on our faces. Here was a whole new world for me to explore, a world where I'd finally belong, and it apparently came with built-in (potential) friends."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories that involve characters from one world (often magical) suddenly turning up in another (often not) are so popular. What other examples do you know? How does Legend of Greg measure up?

  • If you were to suddenly discover that you belonged to a group/tribe/family from tales you thought were fiction, which one do you think it would be? Why do you think you'd be a member of that group, and what do you think you'd do about it?

  • Have you ever thought you knew someone pretty well, and then seen a whole new side of them that you didn't like at all? What happened? How did you handle it?

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