Friday, February 24, 2012

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner

I haven’t read too many children’s books that tackle the process of aging and how it affects family as a main theme, and Messner not only does that in this book, but does it very well. Gianna is the star on the cross country running team, but she has a problem. If she doesn’t finish her science project on time, she won’t be able to run in sectionals. Bianca, the bully, is waiting to replace her and Gianna has all sorts of distractions from finishing the project such as her Grandma Nonna who is becoming forgetful in a scary way.

Gianna’s science project is on identifying leaves and trees. Gianna and her friend Zig identify trees with people that they know and as a way to remember them. The leaves represent feelings about death, feelings about people, and characteristics of friends, neighbors, and family. They are littered throughout the entire story and add a richness to the text. Messner has nice descriptions and a strong ending. Gianna’s Grandma Nonna has the beginning of Alzheimer’s and everyone deals with it in a different way. Gianna is scared and wants to talk about it while her mother is in denial and doesn’t want to deal with it. Gianna has a classmate whose grandma dies and because Gianna’s father owns the funeral parlor in town, Gianna ends up going and helping the classmate cope with her grief. The two become friends and Gianna learns to stick up for her friend against Bianca, the class bully.

The plot has a couple of slow spots such as when Zig and Gianna take a bike trip to go look at leaves. This is where the two connect people with trees and we see their friendship but not much happens. The tension is that Gianna realizes she’s way behind on her project but we already know that. Also, when she keeps missing the details regarding the project it seemed like it happened one too many times or was forced. I did think at one point, “Are you kidding?” There’s scatterbrained and there’s scatterbrained. But hey, it’s possible. I just think the story would have been stronger if there was another strong reason as to why she couldn’t get make the deadline (versus always just forgetting the details). But this doesn’t detract from a well-told story. Gianna and Zig like each other but only the suggestion of their friendship turning into a romance is evident.

I like how the ending has families and friends putting together memory books as a way to deal with the classmate’s loss of her grandma and Nonna losing her memory. My mom has Alzheimer’s and I like the part where the disease is described as “pages being torn from a book” until all that is left is the covers (the character is quoting Elie Wiesel). What a powerful image. The book also reminds me of my grandma and how much I loved her. Gianna and her grandma have a close loving relationship. What a terrific book.

Reading Level 4.2
:-):-):-):-) 4 out of 5 Smileys

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