Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Secret Life of Boys in The Fourth Stall

Reading Chris Rylander's  The Fourth Stall, I felt like I entered a secret “boy world” that adults seldom access.  Christian “Mac” Barrett keeps his family and his business separate.  He loves his parents, but feels they must be protected from his actual everyday life.  Mac’s nickname comes from the television show MacGyver.  Like that fabled character, Mac is a fixer.  He solves problems for kids and gets them things they need.  He and his best friend Vince have been so successful that these sixth graders have cleared almost $6000 in profits.  Another screen character Mac calls to mind is Michael Corleone.  The book is full of Godfather references, which may be over the heads of its readers but will certainly entertain adults.
Problems are not solved without a cost, however, and Mac faces a fearsome foe in an older boy named Staples.  Staples is encroaching on Mac’s elementary school turf by having his young representatives act as bookies in the school yard.  Everything is translated to the kid world (they’re betting on the JV football game) but the stakes are still high.  Parents may pause over some violence.  The kids’ fear is real and so are a few of the “roughing up” scenes.  Certainly Mac’s encounters are nothing compared to Alex Rider fighting it out with international terrorists, but the realistic contemporary setting makes this plot element a little more scary.

For me, that concern is far outweighed by the clever writing, superb plot development, and sheer fun of The Fourth Stall.  Mac and Vince share a friendship based on personal history and common interests, a relationship which is not often depicted in books for boys.  My favorite supporting character might be Kitten, the bully who fools all the teachers with his excellent manners and neat attire.  I think I've met a few Kittens during my elementary school years, but none were quite this entertaining.  The Fourth Stall would make an excellent family read aloud for children 4th grade and up--Lucinda Whitehurst. (Walden Pond Press, 2011)

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