According to his publisher, Chris Rylander’s debut novel is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets The Sopranos,” which may be the oddest meet I have come across in a longtime. After reading it, I admit that it is strangely fitting, though personally I think Rylander is more a student of Gordon Korman than Jeff Kinney. Regardless, there is much fun to be had in this great middle grade book.
Christian, known as Mac, short for MacGyver, a reference perhaps lost on the audience, can solve any problem. He runs a business out of the fourth stall in an abandoned bathroom in the east wing of his school, aided by best friend and numbers whiz Vince. Together they help fellow students procure test answers, contraband movie tickets, protection from school bullies, and pretty much anything else a kid could ask for. Together, Mac and Vince have amassed a nice sum of money, which is going to come in handy when the Cubs make the World Series, which is looking more and more likely. But when third grader Fred comes in, fearing the wrath of the feared and legendary Staples, things get complicated.
Although the general tone and spirit of the book is fun, there are some deeper emotional notes worked in. I love the friendship between Mac and Vince, which is tested when Mac suspects Vince of not only stealing money from their business, but being an informant for the vile Staples. Vince lives in a trailer park and the issue of money and family strife comes up a few times, but not in a way that feels false or deters from the action of the story. There are also quite a lot of fights. But all of this serves to add depth to the story.
Rylander’s novel is full of underage bookies, bullies for hire, and gambling. I don’t know how realistic this portrayal is, but this book was so much fun I didn’t really care. For those of you who have read Words That Start With B, you know I love vigilante justice. There is something very satisfying in having a plan succeed, and this book is full of plans and secret missons and heists. It would be a good book for kids who have graduated from Gordon Korman’s Swindle/Zoobreak/Framed trifecta of middle grade Ocean’s Eleven-esque hijinx. This book will be especially loved by boys, 10-13. There aren’t many girls in this book, though it ends with mention of a mysterious girl who, in the tradition of heist movies everywhere, of COURSE means trouble. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel in the near future.
The Fourth Stall is available in hard cover from Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins.