Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MG Review: Fearless Joe Dearborne

Fearless Joe Dearborne by Lisa Whitney Mitchell

Title: Fearless Joe Dearborne
Author: Lisa Whitney Mitchell
Publisher: Independent; 2014. 198 pages
Source: Electronic Review Copy

Publisher's Summary:
Some might say he’s courageous, while others would say he’s daring, maybe even a little crazy. But when Joe Dearborne risked his life and ran into a burning building to save a puppy, the local newspaper referred to him as “fearless”—and that’s a pretty big title for a sixth-grader to live up to.
Plus, Joe already has plenty else to worry about. After other daring feats in the past, Joe promised his father he wouldn’t do anything dangerous again, and, alas, he’s just broken that promise.

But whatever trouble he expects to get into with his father, and despite the dangers he’s triumphed over in the past, nothing could prepare Joe for what he’s about to encounter when a cold, bitterness creeps into his home.

A mysterious and peculiar woman named Mrs. Chill has just been hired to care for Joe while his father is away on business. In no time, however, Joe discovers that she’s up to more than cooking and cleaning, and she has plans to destroy his family. Joe’s effort to save them results in perilous, sometimes humorous, encounters, and leads him on a journey through the threatening wilderness where he faces his greatest challenge yet.

My Review:
This was a quick read that kept me turning the pages. It wasn't quite what I expected from the summary--I think I expected more slapstick humor. But despite the over-played Mrs. Chill, the story really is the tale of a boy who's suffered a lot of loss and is trying to figure out who he is. Joe has been dealing with it--or not--by being recklessly brave, until he goes too far and loses his fearlessness. Now he has to learn that courage is going on even when you are scared.

My biggest criticism of this book lies in the contrast between the stock characters (Mrs. Chill and dotty Aunt P) and the very human boy at the center of the story. Mrs. Chill is like every other evil boarding-school mistress of literature--from Mrs. Minchen (A Little Princess) and Mrs. Monday (Nancy and Plum) to Count Olaf (A Series of Unfortunate Events): her perfidy is obvious to both Joe and the reader, but the adults in the case seem oblivious. I think this is intentional: the comedic aspects tone down what could otherwise be a pretty intense story. But I'm not sure it's necessary. I'd like to see how Joe copes with his real-world problems in the real world.

This is a fun and easy read for kids from about 8 and up. Kids are apt to really enjoy the goofy aspects, though older children (used to books with more intense issues) may share some of my complaints.

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic ARC of Fearless Joe Dearborne by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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