It's the summer of 1969, and things are not only changing in Tamara's little Long Island town, but in the world. Perhaps Tamara could stand to take one small step toward a bit of compassion and understanding? A terrific debut novel with truly vivid characters and a wonderful voice.-- Roaring Brook
As many of you know, I just can't get enough of middle-grade fiction books! So when I saw the opportunity to receive an ARC of NEIL ARMSTRONG IS MY UNCLE & OTHER LIES MUSCLE MAN MCGINTY TOLD ME by Nan Marino on the Shelf Awareness newsletter awhile back, I jumped at the chance. And, boy am I glad I did. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and how much I enjoyed it.
A letter from Nancy Mercado, the Executive Editor of Roaring Brook Press, came along with the ARC of this novel. She had three hopes (and I'm paraphrasing): 1) that the reader could read the book in one sitting; 2) that the book would remind you where you were on July 22, 1969 -- if you were even born; and 3) that you would share this book with a young reader. I definitely took her advice to heart. I was fortunate enough to read this book outside on a beautiful Saturday morning in one sitting, and I do think this book is meant to be read that way (at least for adults.) And, while I don't really remember where I was when Neil Armstong took the first steps on the moon, I do have pictures of me at three months old sitting in front of the television watching history be made. As far as #3 goes, I definitely intend on sharing this book -- not only with readers of this review, but with my middle grade daughter and her friends. I just thought this book was terrific!
I think NEIL ARMSTRONG IS MY UNCLE is going to appeal to a lot of people -- kids and adults. This book was incredibly entertaining to me, and I found myself laughing a great deal at the stories of Tamara and her friends. I know young kids are going to find the banter between the kids and Tamara's resentment towards Muscle Man to be hilarious; and a few kids might even relate to her insecurities and loneliness. However, I think that I enjoyed this book for some different reasons. So many of the the kids' antics brought back fond memories of my childhood; and I found that I was feeling quite nostalgic as I read this novel.
One of the very best things about this book was the narrator -- Tamara Ann Simpson. She is a 10 year old girl and just a wonderful storyteller, not to mention extremely funny. When her best friend moves away and a new boy moves into her house, Tamara isn't willing to cut him a break for anything. As she learns more about Muscle Man's past, she not only discovers things about him, but she also discovers things about herself. It is a treat just to see Tamara mature throughout this novel.
Nan Marino is a librarian, and NEIL ARMSTRONG IS MY UNCLE is her first novel. Ms. Marino grew up in the same area that this book takes place; and I have a feeling that a lot of the story is based on things that happened in her own life. I was so impressed with how she told this story -- it's hard to believe it's her first novel -- because she not only made me laugh, but she made me cry. Ms. Marino has a fantastic website which tells you more about her and her book. There is also a section which tells you what was real in this novel, like the Moon Landing and the Vietnam War; and it even gives you links where you can learn more about these events.
There are so many special things about this novel, and I really can't recommend it enough. I loved that I laughed so much at this story; however, the real beauty of this book is how it addresses the serious issues. The summer of 1969 was a time of huge change for our country, and I think this book gives the reader a glimpse of how it affected the children. This book deals with some very big issues such as the Vietnam War and the loss of family members; however, I think the author handled all of this in a wonderful way. My hope is that children (and maybe even adults) who read this book with learn some of the same lessons that Tamara did while also gaining an appreciation of the past.