Monday, March 10, 2014

MG Book Review: Virgil Creech Takes a Sweep at Redemption, by Mark Myers

General Information
Publisher: Pelican Hater Books (huh??)
Year of publication: 2013
# of chapters: 21
# of pages: (e-book)
Genre: historical

Plot summary (from Amazon): 
What happens when four boys accidently knock out an eccentric stranger and get the mistaken impression that they’ve blinded him? They rescue a mangy mutt from the dump and train it to be his seeing-eye dog, in the hope of absolving their guilt, of course. Further complicating the effort is the fact that one of the boys lays claim to the dog as his own, which sets off a hilarious chain of events as the miscreant plots and schemes to steal the hound back from the old man.

The miscreant is none other than Virgil Creech, youngest of nine bickering brothers in Portsong’s most notorious family. Virgil enlists the help of his only friend, Henry Lee to retrieve the dog, now happily answering to the name Oscar. But the wary Henry begins his own quest for the truth about Oscar’s history. Guided by the dog’s new owner, the kindly Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle, Henry learns about more about life and friendship than he ever does about Oscar.

Set in the 1920’s, Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption probes deep into the mind of a boy, which is a shallow thing indeed. Follow Virgil as he plots and plunders his way through school, church, town, and quite possibly into your heart. His antics are hard for even the stoutest soul to tolerate, but don’t write him off just yet. There is always hope that young Virgil might just find his way.

With colorful characters and unforgettable wit, Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption will leave you ready to take up residence in Portsong – halfway between Savannah and heaven.

Positive Points
What hooked me from the very first sentence is the voice. This novel is set in the 1920s, a pre–video game era when boys played outside and made up ball games. After reading the first few pages, where Henry, Virgil, and their friends try to settle an argument about their game, I knew right away I would like this book—and its characters—and I wasn't disappointed. I was planning on reading only a few chapters to see what the book was about, but I ended up reading the whole thing in one day! I just couldn't put it down.

Virgil is a spirited young boy who doesn't hesitate to start a fight to get his ways. I don't often come across books written from a bully's point of view, so this got my attention right away. His friend Henry is a lot more likable and reasonable, and they both go through a great deal of character growth throughout the novel. There is also an old Englishman with a red coat who insists on being called Colonel, and a dog who belongs to either Virgil or the old man. Each of these characters were well developed and had their own unique voice. By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew them personally.

The story was written from multiple POVs, alternating between Virgil, Henry, the old man, and sometimes other minor characters. Although I normally prefer a unique POV, the omniscient POV works well for this story and fits with the style.

There was a touch of religion in this book, with Virgil attending a church service for the first time to find out why so many people went to church that Sunday, and then pacing near the schoolyard trying to pray, to Henry's amusement. I wouldn't label this novel as Christian, however, because it wasn't the main theme of the novel, just part of the story as an aspect of the time period. It reminded me of Little House on the Prairie in some ways. There was no "preachy" element, which I appreciate. Virgil did learn to be a better friend, with Henry's help, and both grew in the process. I love books where there is significant character growth and good morals, without being moralistic. This was one of them.

This book captures the essence of boyhood very well. I had to laugh numerous times at how well the author knows what it means to be a young boy. He either has a very good memory, or he never grew up, I'm not sure which one. But he knows what it means to be a boy. I have a son, and I could recognize similar behaviors in some parts of the book. The way they behave, how they think, the way they speak, everything was so realistic.

Negative Points
I really can't find anything negative to say! I did come across a few typos, which I will e-mail to the author. It happens. A single editor cannot possibly catch everything in one pass. There were just a few, and easy to correct. I'm still giving the book a five-star rating.

What makes this book unique
Virgil Creech! I don't know why I found him so endearing, regardless of his bad attitude. The picture on the cover, the name, and the voice made it easy to picture him in my mind, and for me, he was real. I kept thinking about him even after closing the book. Now that's some strong writing! Creating memorable characters takes great skill. This author has it.

Overall Impression
This book reminded me of Tom Sawyer, a boy book even girls will enjoy reading. And adults. And everyone in between. One thing I like about reviewing self-published books is that once in a while, I come across one little-known book that may very well become a bestseller some day.

My Rating:

Thinking of purchasing this book? I'll make it easy for you:


Anonymous said...

What a great title for a book. Very neat premise and your discussion about voice makes me want this one right away. It almost sounds like a later day Tom Sawyer type of story. Thanks for featuring.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this one. The title caught my attention and now your review...voice. Voice is so, so important!

Suzanne Warr said...

Sounds like a really interesting book, and a great one for those times I'm looking for something different or a historic novel. Thanks for the recommend, and happy MMGM!


Jenni said...

This sounds really intriguing. I could tell just from the synopsis that it would have a strong voice. I love the 20s time period. Will be adding this to my TBR list!

Unknown said...

It's great you enjoyed this book so much! I confess it reminds me of the "Our Gang" series and is a bit too boy-centric and dated for me. But since you write boy MG, it must have been a treat! Great review. :)

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