The Lifters

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Quirky fable promotes family, community, teamwork.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Fans of merry-go-rounds, history buffs in general will be in heaven with story of long-gone (fictional) carousel company, the way it draws talented artists from across the sea, becomes the focus of the community and rises and falls with changing times. One of the characters wears a T-shirt with the face of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. An adult character used to work in a museum and likes to teach kids about exotic animals.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, community, working together as the best way to fight dark forces.

Positive Role Models & Representations

12-year-old protagonist Gran tries to do the right thing while overwhelmed with a lot of Life stuff, from his family's medical and financial problems to feeling invisible at his new school. When he does things he's not supposed to, like sneaking out at night and stealing his mom's wheelchair, it's for a good cause. Terrifying but appealing classmate Catalina is secretly saving the town from destruction with magic and hard work. Adult characters are often hard pressed by circumstance and sometimes get angry and depressed from stress, but things get better when they discover common goals and work together.

Violence & Scariness

A tween character punches another in the stomach and kicks him because she thinks he's working for the bad guys (he's not). Dark underground forces are knocking the foundations from buildings and gathering places around town. Coping with physical disabilities and getting on with your life is a strong theme.

Language

A small child experimenting with language shouts "Fartmouth!" One middle school-hell episode involves a kid who's not allowed to take a bathroom break, with dire results, and has to spend the day in pee-soaked pants.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lifters, by Dave Eggers, is a quirky fable about magic, family, friendship, and community, set in a small town that's been slowly (and literally) collapsing ever since the local, once legendary carousel company shut down. It's warm, it's funny, it's positive -- and it's also packed with assorted troubles and human frailty that will be very relatable to some readers and too much for others. These include 12-year-old Gran's own problems (starting with being named Granite Flowerpetal), especially when he has to spend a day in pee-soaked pants because a teacher won't let him go to the restroom; his little sister's habit of barfing every time she gets excited; his artist mother's depression since the incident that left her in a wheelchair; and his father's difficulty finding work. There's a lot of sad baggage to overcome, but magic, determination, friendship, family, and hard work carry the day.

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What's the story?

When the struggling Flowerpetal family moves to the decaying town of Carousel in search of a better life, it sets 12-year-old son Granite (hoping to be known as Gran at his new school) on the path to a fateful meeting with THE LIFTERS, a secret society formed to help keep Carousel's streets and buildings from collapsing. Things have been steadily falling apart since the town's carousel company, once world-famous, shut down. Morale is low, the citizens squabble, and buildings suddenly fall down for no reason. Middle school is pretty grim also. But Gran begins to suspect that the strange, fierce girl in his class, the only one to befriend him (when she's not punching him in the stomach), knows more than most about what's going on -- and may be doing something about it. Also, magic seems to crop up in unexpected places.

Is it any good?

Author Dave Eggers delivers a fun read packed with positive messages, mysterious magic, and a couple of determined 12-year-olds pitted against dark forces. En route to the cosmic battle between the town-devouring Hollows and the Lifters trying to stop them, the plot touches on real-life issues including disability, depression, unemployment -- and mortifying scenes at school.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the carousels in The Lifters. Are there any near you? Have you ever ridden one? Do you like them, or do you think they're too old-fashioned to be any fun?

  • When you look at something like a carved animal on a merry-go-round, do you ever think about the people who made it, and what they might have been thinking about at the time?

  • If you found yourself in Gran's situation -- you desperately had to go to the bathroom and your teacher wouldn't let you go -- what would you do? Do you think this would happen in real life, or is it just a story?

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Themes & Topics

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For kids who love fantasy and stories about middle school

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