The Bamboozlers, by Michael de Guzman, and thought, what 11-year-old boy could resist this? It's got cash, a gangster-looking grandfather, a boy in a 3-piece suit, and a tiny dog. (It's actually a tiny 3-legged dog, but you can't tell on the cover.) Happily, this is an occasion when the inside of the book matches the outside (or vice-versa), and I don't know why it took me so long to read this kid-friendly heist story.
The Bamboozlers starts with Albert Rosengard pedaling home to the trailer he shares with his cocktail-waitress mom, desperate to get there before the principal calls, so he can tell his side of the story. But shortly after he gets home, a man he's never seen before shows up, claiming to be his grandfather.
Long story short, Albert defies his mother, goes on a road trip with his grandfather, meets a lot of shady people, and find himself drawn into a bit of a scheme.
This is definitely an action-movie of a book. The dialog is snappy and everybody's got taglines. Albert's grandfather carries around a violin case that no one's even seen the inside of, and there's a motorcycle chase with a hot girl near the end.
Mostly, I thought I knew where things were going, but I was blindsided by a trip to the emergency room right in the middle of the action. And while I knew that Albert's grandfather was a charmer and not to be trusted, the author successfully kept me guessing about all of this intentions. And that's one thing I really liked about this book: the characters didn't have only one reason for doing things. Their motivations were complex, a mix of good and bad motives. More like real life than the tidy character development you sometimes get in children's books.
So basically, I liked it a lot. The heist could have been more clever and the characters' conversations could have been a little less breezy--they never really explode with emotion. But I'm honestly glad that the ending isn't a bleak, Adam Rapp-like finish. It's realistic but hopeful and I was more moved than I thought I would be. I started to really like that Albert Rosengard.
I will unabashedly gush about this book to my fourth and fifth grade students next year (can you believe it's summer vacation?). The Benjamins floating around the cover ought to get their attention, and the short chapters and swift conclusion (187 pages!) will keep them reading. Winner.