Realistic fiction for kids has more baggage than other fictional genres for that age group. Fantasies and comedies and science fiction get to rely on the extraordinary to weave their tales. Historical fiction, meanwhile, has the nice veil of history in place to aid the writer in making their point. What does realistic fiction have? Reality. Cold, cruel, dead dogs and incurable disease-ridden reality. When people think of middle grade realistic fiction their minds sometimes go to deeply depressing works where horrible things happen to perfectly nice kids. Blame schools that equate misery with learning for that crime. My favorite works of realistic fiction move beyond obvious metaphors and big honking deaths to make their points in subtler, more amusing ways. No one’s going to necessarily accuse Lutricia Clifton’s Freaky Fast Frankie Joe of being a laugh riot, admitted. But with its appealing hero, recognizable cast of characters and strong plot this is one subtle little novel that wins you over before you even realized you needed convincing. Consider discovering it.
Here’s a basic rule of thumb. Anytime you run into four boys named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, odds are you’re going to find them less than saintly individuals. That’s bad. What’s worse is if you suddenly discover you’re their big brother. Frankie Joe always led a life that he liked. He had lots of folks in the trailer park to watch over him and a mom that’s a lot more fun than the ones that make their kids go to school every day. Everything was just ducky until she went and got herself arrested. Now Frankie Joe’s father, a guy he’s never even met, appears out of the blue and takes the boy to middle-of-nowhere Plainview, Illinois. The deal is that Frankie Joe will stay there for the ten months his mom’s in the hoosegow, but ten months is too long for this boy. Not only are his newfound younger brothers a bother (particularly alpha male Matt) but his father’s some kind of stickler for self-improvement. That’s when a brilliant idea occurs. Frankie Joe’s fast on a bike. Really fast. Freaky fast. What if he started a delivery service and earned the money he needed to buy the stuff he’d use to get back to the old trailer park to wait out his mom? It’s a crazy plan but he’s sure it’ll work. That is, if he can just harden his heart to Plainview and the people who are in it.
Foster boys of the The Great Gilly Hopkins ilk are, as far as I can ascertain, less common than foster girls in middle grade literature. For every Frankie Joe you’ll find a dozen Home, and Other Big, Fat Lies or The Road to Paris titles. Why is it that foster girls are appealing but foster boys aren’t? To be perfectly frank, Frankie Joe isn’t really a foster kid either. He has a loving father and new family just sitting there waiting for him. The kind of situation many a kid would kill for . .Add a Comment