Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Pay Attention, Carter Jones
by Gary D. Schmidt
Middle School    Clarion    216 pp.    g
2/19    978-0-544-79085-8    $16.99    
e-book ed.  978-1-328-52691-5    $9.99 

Sixth grader Carter Jones misses his soldier father, currently deployed in Germany; he misses his dead brother; he misses any semblance of normalcy in his life. When Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, a butler bequeathed to his family by his recently deceased paternal grandfather, arrives on his doorstep on the first day of middle school, things do not get any closer to normal. Inserting a proper British butler into a suburban American household provides ample opportunities for Schmidt to lighten an otherwise-tragic tale, such as when the butler introduces Carter and his classmates to the sport of cricket and, with it, the concepts of proper etiquette, responsibility, and knowing oneself. Deft incorporation of comedic scenes and Schmidt’s trademark use of narrator-provided snark give the story the levity it needs to counteract the surprising number of tears readers are likely to shed. Interspersed with the main narrative of the budding relationship between Carter and the imperious, cricket-loving butler are flashbacks to Carter and his father’s Australian camping trip the previous summer; the trip’s significance grows as readers learn more about father and son. Schmidt balances these parallel narratives with remarkable finesse, carefully allowing Carter to connect the dots for readers at just the right moments. The reappearance of characters from his previous books (another Schmidt hallmark) will gratify fans. And don’t worry: cricket rules and definitions helpfully precede each chapter, so that by the novel’s conclusion — by which time Carter’s whole school is obsessed with the sport — readers will be cheering on each “over” and every “wicket.”

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter is the school librarian at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia.
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