SUMMARY: Nicholas has had several difficulties in his life. His younger brother died, his father lost his job, and now they must sell their house. Nicholas does not want to leave his house because his baby brother was buried in the backyard under a large tree. He believes the tree to be the spirit of his brother. His grandfather has shown up after getting out of prison. But not all is well with his grandfather who is failing from dementia. At school, Nicholas is a genius, excelling at math and violin, but has no friends. He spends every day eating his lunch in the bathroom by himself. His grandfather claims to have hidden a trunk of heirlooms. If Nicholas helps him find them, he would have money to keep the house. Through many crazy events, Nicholas teams up with two other misfits for school as well as one of their grandfathers to find the treasure. Through the hunt, he gets to know his grandfather as well as himself.
THE GOOD: There are parts to the hunt that are quite interesting and keep you riveted. I desperately wanted to get to the end to see what was in the trunk.
THE NOT AS GOOD: Where to begin? First, the writing of the story is poor. The sentences are choppy and the description is extremely weak. The author uses the same descriptive words over and over and over again. Then there is the issue of the author's use of musical and mathematical words throughout the entire story. This is overdone to the nth degree. When a person is speaking, the author uses forte or piano in parentheses throughout the book. This is extremely distracting. Often, throughout the book, Nicholas will stop to explain a musical term and how it must explain the mood of the moment. A couple of these might have worked, but there were far too many. During the dialogue, instead of making it a natural part of the action going on, the author uses "he said" and "she said" for every single piece of dialogue! This brought me to annoyance within the first chapter.
Almost every single character was unlikeable. They were bullies, thieves, criminals, snobbish, or just plain weird. There is a fine line between quirky and weird. Baker crossed over this line several times. Nicholas has a very strange belief that his brother is the tree in the backyard. He plays his violin as a way to communicate to the tree, and Nicholas believes the tree speaks back to him. Jordan is mean to people because he believes he will become his abusive father. Tragedy was overdone excessively. Everyone had a major sob story which was used to excuse their bad behavior. The book was full of extremely unrealistic bad behavior such as daily stealing and bullying. Plot twists were strange, random, and unrealistic. The bullies never receive what they deserve. Everyone just shrugs off their bad behavior. And I was highly disturbed by the fact that Nichoas kept his grandfather in an abandoned house living off of canned fruits and vegetables. The grandfather becomes ill because of this. The ending is such a complete let down that I was mad at myself for completing the book to get to the ending.
AGE RECOMMENDATION: This book is advertized for ages 8-12 which is completely inappropriate for the maturity of the story for the following content:
A dead baby buried in the backyard, bullying (lots), stealing(lots), a seance complete with a pentagram, dead bodies being dumped by gangsters and descriptions of the condition of the bodies, gangs, death, fighting, and discussions about abortion, euthanasia, war, and violence.
This book should not be read read by anyone below middle school age.
mmcbeth29 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over
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