Monday, May 8, 2017
Me and Marvin Gardens
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is a middle grade fantasy novel disguised as a realistic fiction novel. It classifies as fantasy because Obe discovers a new species of animal in a creek on his family's land. The animal eats plastic and leaves toxic scat throughout the housing development.
The novel is written in first-person, narrated by Obe. Breaking up the narrative, scattered throughout the book, are short chapters on gray pages, detailing what life was like 100 years ago. These sections begin vague but become more and more specific to the plot and the Devlin family as the novel nears its end. There is some mystery that strings readers along in subplots, like why Obe tends to get bloody noses easily, what happened to his friendship with Tommy, and what led to the Devlin land being taken away.
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS reminds me of children's novels like HOOT by Carl Hiaasen and OPERATION REDWOODS by S. Terrell French. Children in general, love the environment and are sensitive to taking care of it when educated at a young age. My 7-year-old daughter is a testament to that. Stories like this appeal to children. I can just imagine my students trying to draw Marvin, and take a genuine interest in protecting him. Likewise, Obe was a thoughtful, endearing narrator who was easy to root for.
I also thought Obe's relationships with his family and peers were very realistic and children will be able to relate to this as well. His friendship with Annie is sweet and awkward and his trouble with Tommy is all to common among kids. Choice Tommy made as a friend have damaged his relationship with Obe (maybe even for good) and this is important for children to read. Furthermore, I liked how each member of Obe's family was portrayed as their own person with their own interests and personalities and how tuned into this Obe was. At one point, Obe wonders if his father would have been his friend when he was younger or if he would have gravitated to boys like the boys in the new development. How painfully insightful! Obe knows the members of his family all have different interests but also discovers in the end, that they are there for each other. I liked the nuanced, non-cliched way this was portrayed.
Finally, I really liked the fantasy take on a story that really wasn't a fantasy. I also appreciated King's ability to be didactic about the environment without this book feeling overly didactic.
The discovery of Marvin is the only aspect of this story that classifies it as fantasy, and to me, it might be the weakest part of the story. Marvin felt a little too silly and goofy. I like that King tried to make Marvin as realistic as possible (dog shape and size, rhino-like skin) but the multi-colored scat and the role his scat played in the story was just a little too much for me. Marvin eating plastic was a strange subplot that was a little more farfetched than the idea of Marvin in the first place. Marvin is used more as a plot device to get Obe to move from point A to point B as a character, so I understand the lack of explanation into his being and his future, but it would have been fun to explore him a little more. The fact that King didn't, seems like a bit of a copout.
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is a unique coming of age story. While the fantasy elements of this story were a little weak, Obe's relationship drama, with both family and peers, was well done and middle grade kids should be able to relate to him easily.