MMGM Review: Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt
What does it mean to be a gentleman in today's world?
As I tear my hair out every day at my three-year-old son's random temper tantrums and screaming demands to be fed at every hour of the day and night, this is a philosophical question that seems to have looming relevance in my life. I want my son to be devoted to God and passionate about serving Him. I want him to be kind and just and strong and gentle. I want him to treat women with love and respect. I want him to think of others before himself. I want him to be unafraid to try new things and to stand up against evil and to cry with those who have been hurt. I would also like him to stop randomly running around with no pants on.
He's three, though, so I'll cut him some slack. I have much less patience for the hundreds of young men in our world who couldn't care less about much of that. I know, I know, I'm a grumpy old lady. "Back in my day, the boys held doors open for us! When I was your age, 'social' meant talking to someone in person and looking them in the eye!" But, seriously... do we even use the word "gentleman" anymore? Is that something our boys are striving to be? Is it something our girls are even looking for?
I'm not here today to wax philosophical, however. I'm here to tell you about an amazing, beautiful book that comes out on February 5 that does all this philosophizing for me in the form of a story (which is always the best way to take philosophy to heart, in my opinion). I've loved many of Gary D. Schmidt's books, but Pay Attention, Carter Jones is my absolute favorite.
Here's a little from the publisher:
In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler's notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.
Sparkling with humor, this insightful and compassionate story will resonate with readers who have confronted secrets of their own.
The butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, prefers to be known as "a gentleman's gentleman," and a strong undercurrent of the entire story revolves around the theme of what exactly that word means.
I'll give you fair warning that Carter's "burden of grief and anger" is quite a burden--maybe too much for younger middle grade readers to handle. But Schmidt did an incredible job of showing the grace that can emerge from awful, terrible and even sinful circumstances. No kid should have to deal with such burdens--but kids do, every day. I dealt with my own burdens when I was a kid...my kids will have theirs. As I've written before, I consider "hard books" to be one of the best ways to allow children a chance to experience sorrow and heartbreak and injustice from another's perspective so they can decide what kind of person they would be in a similar situation. In this case, I hope my son will ask himself the question, "Will I crumple and turn bitter? Or will I choose to be a true gentleman?" And with this story under his belt, he'll have a pretty good idea of what that means in any day and age.
You can purchase the book through Amazon by clicking the cover image above or the link below, and I'll receive a small percentage of the sale. As always, though, I highly encourage you to support your local independent bookstore if you can!
Get more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday book recommendations at Greg's blog!