Here's my review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones, a brand new book from Gary D. Schmidt. It's a fantastic middle grade book for readers 10 and up!
I loved it! I cried, I laughed, and I've been gushing about it since I finished.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones is yet another perfect middle grade masterpiece from Gary D. Schmidt. He just knows how to write them.
Carter Jones and his family are going through a rough patch. There's been a death that they're all grieving and Carter's father, a military man, has been away from home for far too long. On the morning of his first day of middle school, Carter Jones answers a knock at the door and is surprised to find a British Butler at his service.
This wonderful British Butler, a Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, is a Mary Poppins kind of character. But instead of floating in with an umbrella on a cloud, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives in a purple Bentley with a bowler hat.
He refers to himself as a "gentleman's man" and he's there to diplomatically whip the family into shape. He's wise and compassionate and very much a stickler for proper English manners and rules of civility. He's also a big fan of the English sport Cricket, which plays an important and fun role in the book.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones is full of humor - the kind that makes you laugh out loud. Between Carter Jones's sarcastic adolescent resistance to all the British rules of decorum and the Butler's dry sense of humor as he enforces all the rules, I laughed in every chapter.
At one point, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick convinces young Carter Jones to give a presentation in his middle school history class articulating "the British perspective" on the Declaration of Independence. When Carter presents it as a "marketing scam," his classmates, who haven't been talking to wise British butlers, are, well, not so enthusiastic about this point of view. It's one of my favorite scenes in the book.
I also did a lot of laughing, so much that I had to put the book down for a minute, when Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick gives Carter Jones his first cricket lesson. It's such a fantastic scene.
Really, I laughed through the whole book . . . except for all the parts that made me cry.
The book is funny, but it's also poignant and compassionate. The grief that the Jones family feels is very real. The losses Carter suffers and the trials he has to endure are the difficult things that all good parents pray their kids never have to experience. But Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick is full of real life wisdom as he guides the Jones family through it all.
He teaches the Jones children how to be better siblings to each other, how to practice their musical instruments and get their homework done efficiently, and how important a proper cultural education can be to them. And everyday when he drops them off at school in the purple Bentley, he tells them,
Make good decisions and remember who you are.Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick
When I finished Pay Attention, Carter Jones, I closed it and wished for a good twenty minutes that I'd had a British butler to help me and my kids through some of our worst rough patches. And then I felt profoundly grateful that we, and everyone else trying to make it through a rough patch, can experience Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick's wisdom through the pages of this book.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones was a five star read for me and for my 12 year old daughter. I thought it was funny, uplifting, and wise without ever feeling heavy handed. We both highly recommend it!
After I wrote this review, I saw a few reviews on Goodreads complaining about all the cricket in the book - it's too confusing for Americans, there's too much cricket, etc. I very much beg to differ. I know absolutely nothing about ANY sport. I can't even think of one team name right now. So, to say sports don't really interest me is putting it mildly. But the cricket scenes in this book only served to further the plot for me and were never boring.
In fact, since finishing the book, my daughter and I keep saying to each other, "Keep the bails up," which we couldn't really define for you in sports terms, but we know EXACTLY what the butler meant by it when it comes to real life knocking you down.
The only quibble I had with this book is minor. I didn't really love the dog throwing up in every chapter - not my kind of humor. Then again, I'm not an eleven year old boy, so . . . .
Have you read this book, or any Gary D. Schmidt books? I'd love to hear what you think!