Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Book Review Club - The Gollywhopper Games, Friend or Foe

The Gollywhopper Games - Friend or Foe
Jody Feldman
Middle Grade

This is my third romp through the Gollywhopper Games (3rd book in the series) and it was as fresh, fun and filled with as many unexpected twists as the first, which is saying something. These books are plot mixed with mystery (nod to Barrie) mixed with puzzles in a new spin on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a realistic twist. Every single puzzle or conundrum Feldman creates is both real and solvable. The reader has "skin in the game" so to speak because she can outwit the winner, if she wants, and solve the puzzles before she reads to the end. It's the kind of rush a reader longs for in a book, while sneakily being, dare I say, math at the same time.

Basic plot: Zane plays football, but after two concussions, he has to sit out for a season. He feels lost, both within his circle of friends and identity-wise when the strangest of tests arrives at school. All students are required to take it, although nobody knows why. Zane's teacher says the test is pointless, but when Zane aces it, pointless turns into a chance to play in the third round of the Gollywhopper Games. And the rush begins.

There are a lot of things to like both in the style of prose and the puzzles Feldman creates. I am amazed at the number of games and problems she has created now over three books, with no exhaustion in sight. This time around, contestants can play in friend mode or foe mode when solving the larger than life games and math problems Golly creates. Foe mode brings more points and also more obstacles. At the same time, a saboteur is at work to ruin the games. This B-plot keeps things interesting when the reader may need a mental break from problem solving, or a different kind of mystery to tackle, as well as putting the reader on edge. Will one of the contestants get hurt?

Characters are well developed, all going through a metamorphosis as they solve puzzles and advance. Even Zane finds a way to have his football without endangering himself, and discovers that football players might not be the only people with whom he shares common interests.

The thing that struck me most about this book from a craft perspective is a subtlety. Feldman uses observations by other contestants to deepen the relationships between characters. The story is told in 3rd person close (Zane). It is through his lens that the reader experiences the action. However, when describing relationships, other characters chime in, analyzing and interpreting the closeness or distance between characters. Feldman, because she has to do use so much descriptive work with puzzles, uses this valuable tool to keep the story from getting bogged down in descriptives. It's clever.

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Barrie said...

That Jody Feldman!! She writes great books! I loved the first 2 Gollywhopper Games....and have the 3rd one on my nightstand. Oh, I'm not surprised she managed to sneak a little mystery in. Mwahahaha! Thanks for reviewing, Stacy!

Bee said...

Gosh, I haven't even heard of these! It sounds like they are a big deal in American MG . . . I will have a look in English bookshops/libraries to see if they've made it over here yet. They sound really clever and engaging.

Sarah Laurence said...

Marvelous review, Stacy! I love how you analyze what makes a book great. This series might appeal to my 11-year-old nephew so thanks for the recommendation. Congrats on your latest, Jody!