book review: The Great Greene Heist

TheGreatGreeneHeisttitle: The Great Greene Heist

author: Varian Johnson

date: Arthur A. Levine; May 2014

main character: Jackson Green

middle grade fiction

Intriguing! Has Jackson Greene changed? And, just how bad was he that he needed to change? Will Jackson get the girl? Will the girl get the guy? Will Gabriela win the election?

The cast of characters for this middle grade caper includes Victor Cho, Bradley Boardman, Megan Feldman and Charlie de la Cruz and their talents range the spectrum from inventing high-tech inventions to environmental advocacy. These middle grade students put it all on the line to save their friends and the student council election for their school. What could be more important to middle grade students?

I found the 3rd person voice in this book so refreshing and accomplished in a manner that few other than Varian Johnson can do. The story Johnson tells is as much Gaby’s as it is Jackson’s. I think he successfully nailed the voice of his characters, who were quite well-developed. The guys sound like guys and the girls sound like girls.

And, then there’s Principal Kelsey who manages to rest firmly on the marker for ‘stereotypical character’ on the Scale of Character Development for Children and Young Adult Books. With so much going on in the story, using him as a stock character allows the story to move at it’s quick pace. How stock is he? This guy is so self-involved that he doesn’t take any effort to get to know his students. He confuses his Asian students with one another as easily as he confuses Latino students. The students are so different from one another, readers wonder how he could do that.

Embedding elements from Oceans 11, Westing Game, Sneakers, Thomas Crown Affair and Star Trek 3: Wrath of Khan in this book, Johnson appeals to the mischievous intellect of this daring age group. Jackson is one of the best-developed MG male characters I’ve read in a long time. While his character relate more to reader’s creative side, his escapades relate to why we read in the first place: for sheer enjoyment.

themes: Elections; friendship; technology; reliability; integrity


Author Interview: Varian Johnson

TGIF!!!  After a week of standardized testing, I’m ready for the weekend! A chance to step away from the workplace and chillax. I’ve got quite a pile of books to get to that I just can’t find the stamina to read during the work week. It looks like we might have a few storms going through and that using provides a nice atmosphere for reading.
I can’t think of a better way to start this weekend than an interview with Varian Johnson. I haven’t done a lot of author interviews here, so you have to know this a special event! Varian’s new book, Saving Maddie (my recent review) was just released on Tuesday. Varian’s first YA book was My Life as a Rhombus, an enjoyable book about Rhonda, a high school student who is a math genius trying to solve the problems in her own life. And, she’s rhombus! Not only does Varian live virtually in 2.0, but he’s an engineer, educator and family man. Living proof of that to whom much is given, much is expected. He has so many talents!

I have a short interview with Varian today, but do also take the opportunity to visit one of the other blogs on his recent tour and learn more about the man behind these wonderful books. Varian also maintains his own blog. AND!! I’ve got a little giveaway! Any and everyone who shares a little comment on this blog will be entered for a chance to win a copy of “Saving Maddie”. I have two copies. You will have until midnight on Saturday 13 March to be entered into the drawing.

Monday, March 8thAuthor’s Tent, Melodye

Tuesday, March 9thReading In Color, Ari

Wednesday, March 10th – Gwenda at Shaken & Stirred

Thursday, March 11th – Melissa at Book Nut

Do you see Saving Maddie as appealing to boys, girls or both? Both! I actually have a slight problem with the “boy book / girl book” label—while it works in general, I worry that when one says a novel is a “boy book,” someone may automatically think that ALL boys should like it, or that NO girl would want to read it. That being said, it’s very true that some books will appeal to girls more than boys, and vice versa. Cover art aside, I think Saving Maddie is a novel both genders can enjoy and relate to. 

I don’t know how easy it will be to answer this, but your books have really deep issues in them. How difficult is it to let your characters work through these issues without becoming preachy? How do you stray away from letting your author’s voice bleed through? Maybe what I’m really trying to ask his how do you perfect your skill? 

 I work really, really hard at trying to keep the authorial voice separate from each specific character’s voice. Most of my secondary characters tend to start off as quite didactic and two-dimensional—it takes multiple revisions to transform them into real characters.  

Also, my characters feel like my children at times—I don’t want all of these bad things to happen to them. I want someone to swoop in set them on the right path (I especially felt this way about Rhonda in My Life as a Rhombus, and Madeline is practically breaking my heart right now as I work through the companion novel). But at the end of the day, my job as an author is to make it hard for my characters. There’s no such thing as an easy answer in my books.

 I found Maddie to be a very intriguing character! I am really looking forward to finding out more about her in your next book. In your writing process, how far do you develop your characters? Does Maddie have a theme song? Birthday? Favorite TV show? Or does she just kind of come to your imagination?   Maddie has a full life outside of the pages of Saving Maddie. While she doesn’t necessarily have a theme song or favorite show (yet), she has a birthday, and she most certainly feels like a real person to me.  

What are some of the books you remember reading as a child? I was a Judy Blume disciple—I loved all her books. I was also a huge fan of Virginia Hamilton and Walter Dean Myers. 

Twitter or Facebook? OhI love them both. But if I had to choose, I’d pick Facebook. Sometimes it’s tough to get things down to 140 characters. 

American football or soccer?  Football! (Go Sooners!) 

Mountains or oceans?  Oceans. I grew up an hour from Myrtle Beach, SC. 

Meat or vegetables As my Dad used to say—it’s not a real meal if it doesn’t have meat! 

Rain or snow?   Um…neither? 

Where is the furthest away from home you’ve ever traveled?  India. I travelled there for 10 days with my wife while she was in graduate school. We saw everything from the beaches of Goa to the Taj Mahal.  

What’s the last thing that made you smile?   That question about meat! I really, really love my meats!

Thanks, Varian for the great interview! Your passion for writing is as obvious as your concern for your readers. I wish you much success!

Thanks, Jessica for the promotional materials!