“Book Review: Grape!”
Reviewed by Joe Walters
An honest troublemaker pleads his way into our hearts in Grape!, the upper middle grade treasure from Gabriel Arquilevich.
This one took me by surprise. From the blurb, I knew I’d be exploring a narrative about a young boy coming to terms with his troublesome behavior, but I guess I never really expected to feel so much in the process. In these pages, I met a funny little dude and devoured a refreshingly honest voice that isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
We open this novel with Gaby already suspended. He’s on the verge of being sent to a school for problem kids. But he has one last shot. During his suspension, he must write for an hour each day about his history of getting into trouble. At the end of it, the principal will read through it and make a final decision on whether he stays or goes. No pressure, right?
As readers, we sit back and explore each daily excerpt as if we were this principal, deciphering each action and mindset, making our own decisions on whether or not he’s too bad for this school—or if he doesn’t deserve to be sent away.
At the beginning of the novel, he goes by Gaby. But that doesn’t last long in the narrative. After an encounter with a classmate and a venture into the dictionary–learning that his name is another word for excessive chatter–he begins a new life as a boy named Grape. Our young protagonist carries this sort of independent thinking throughout each chapter, believing what he believes in and sticking to it, making us hopeful that somebody, anybody will take this little dude’s side and get to understand him the way that we can on every page.
The first thing that stands out to me is just how much this voice leaps from the page. Almost like all the thoughts are rushing out and he has to catch up to them just to get them out, it makes for a quick stream-of-consciousness read that seems almost tailor-made for sympathetic ears. I constantly care for Grape, even when the adults around him struggle to understand where he’s coming from, because we get to hear him, see him, care for him—and it works.
I’m an adult (from my age’s perspective at least), but I can clearly see what fun that middle grade readers could have with Grape! As a whole, they’ll be able to discuss whether or not he should be expelled by the end of the novel with likely varying opinions. It’s true that he does bad things every once in a (short) while, but since we get it all from his extremely likeable and reasonable perspective, it’s harder to just send him away like that.
I see students from grades 4-7 taking on an assignment just like Grape’s while reading it. They could write journal entries in the vein of Grape!, describing the things they’ve gotten in trouble for—an opportunity for them (and him) to write honestly to explain themselves and see if they were really right in their actions.
When middle schoolers get a hold of Grape’s antics, they’ll surely appreciate the giggle-worthy actions he takes to combat the authority around him. Since it’s almost a collection of shorts with one long thread, it makes for an adaptable text to use in a classroom, too; teachers will be able to separate each trouble-episode easily and discuss them on their own about the special literary tactics they use to draw us closer to him as a character. And just like any good middle grade read, we get intuitive conversations about things that matter to these kids, like puberty, problems at home, and standing up for yourself and others.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I had an absolute blast with Grape! Not only was it a three-day bingefest of enjoyable reading, but it got me closer to a young man I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise. And I couldn’t be more thankful for that. He’s real, he’s likable, and he’ll likely go down as one of my favorite little fictional dudes of all time. Teachers, students, and random adults with a soft spot for kids—Grape! is a keeper.
Paperback: 186 pages
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