Genie and Ernie’s parents are fighting all the time, so they decide to go on vacation and leave the boys with their grandparents in rural Virginia, which is surprising since their father and grandfather barely speak to one another. These city boys are stunned to discover that they are expected to do chores, including cleaning up after the dog. Although Ernie, the older brother, is super-cool and wears his sunglasses inside like their grandfather, Genie soon realizes that Grandpop wears dark glasses because he is completely blind.
On one level, this middle-grade novel can be read as a boys’ adventure story. Girl-crazy Ernie is so transparent as the kid who is trying hard to listen to all the right music and impress the confident young girl across the road. Genie is at a clumsy stage, and no matter how much he tries to do everything right, he is continually breaking things and making them worse by trying to fix them. Their wholesomeness feels almost nostalgic, although this novel also has a darker side.
There are several serious themes tucked into this semi-autobiographical story. As Jason Reynolds explained at the APA Author Dinner in Chicago, the kids whose parents were part of the African-American migration to the northern cities were so removed from their agricultural grandparents in the south that they had a hard time relating to them at all. Furthermore, Genie’s grandfather was a strong and forceful man who commanded respect. Genie does not know how to cope with the new understanding he has of Grandpop: his blindness, his anger, and his willingness to endanger others rather than admit that he may be wrong. What does a young boy do when he discovers that his hero is not perfect? Reynolds opines that he can either become bitter and angry, or he can do what he knows to be right and become a hero for someone else.
Fun, yet thoughtful, reading for boys from 10-14.
Disclaimer: I read a gift copy of this book, signed by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.