Meloy, Colin. Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid, The. Carson Ellis. Illus. Fiction. Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, 10/2017. 424pp. $17.99. 978-0-06-234245-4. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 3-7.
In 1961Marseille, France, Charlie Fisher, the neglected 12-year-old son of an American consul general, falls in with a Lebanese boy named Amir and a crew of other young, multicultural pickpockets. Looking to forge a life of his own, as well as find some friends, Charlie is brought into the fold first by running center field (watching and learning) and then as a duke man (the one that all of the other pickpockets bring their spoils to), all while trying to keep the two diametrically opposed sides of his life from colliding. Meticulously crafted and thoroughly researched, vivid descriptions rife with specific detail bring the streets of the French city to life, and an occasional authorial direct address adds further humor to an already amusing tale. Just when one begins to wonder where it’s all going, a doozy of a bombshell is dropped two-thirds of the way through, which excitingly lays the groundwork for the final path ahead. Ellis’s occasional full-page illustrations feel period authentic to the ‘60s, often recalling the rounded figures of Peter Max and Daniel Pinkwater. Meloy continually brings up socio-economics as the ragtag band of misfits sees themselves as Robin Hoods to a certain degree, with Amir saying, “Way I see it, we’re evening the score a bit, yeah?… To take the rich folks down a peg,” and the Code of the Whiz Mob being that “no one facing financial hardship, marginalization, or oppression of any sort should be targeted.” When Charlie’s hard-honed skills are put to a final test near the end, the reader gets a true, step-by-step insight into the art of the steal and, luckily, included at the end is an extensive (and quite necessary!) glossary of whiz lingo. Eric Barbus, San Francisco Public Library