Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown – Review by Susie Highley
Flint Keith Minett is in a race against time: he is nearing the deadline to finish his entry for a comic book contest at the same time his poor vision is deteriorating from keracotonus. He goes to school early to avoid being bullied on the bus, and prefers to keep to himself and draw his superhero story. His mother is an unreliable factor in his life, and he is being raised by his grandparents. Then he meets a new student, McKenna, who is also going through a trying time: her brother Danny is dying of cancer.
This book has it all: humor, pathos, rich character development, bullying, service learning, and many possible classroom connections. Readers will enjoy the way the comic reflects what is going on with Flint and McKenna; at times, you might think you know what is going to happen, but then the story takes another turn. There are numerous, wonderful metaphors that relate to vision and seeing.
The book has some engaging typography: there is the narrative of Flint’s life, but also the comic storyline, interspersed with texts, “Comic Rules,” “Middle School Rules,” and even “Grandma and Grandpa Rules.” I found myself nodding time after time about some of the “Middle School Rules,” such as:
Every kid thinks their parents are embarrassing. (But mine really are.)
If there is an easy joke, someone will take it.
And the comic rules are fun as well:
Give your main character an interesting backstory. If possible, include the villains. It heightens the tension.
Nearly all heroes must wear something skintight so we see all of their exaggerated muscles.
It’s wise to put a girl in your comic to widen your audience.
Perhaps some of the parallels I was experiencing at the time that I received this added to the book’s impact on me; the day I read most of it, my sister had eye surgery. This was also the same week that Tyler Trent from Purdue University was in the news for his inspiring quest to attend the Ohio State football game. In the case of both Tyler and Danny, we know that death is imminent, but are awed by their strength.
Flint is a hero, but a flawed protagonist. His realizations of his own strengths and weaknesses could be an example for students. At the same time he can physically see his family and friends better, his perceptions of their relationships sharpen as well. None of the characters are all bad or all good, which Flint eventually realizes as well. The power of the friendship between Flint and McKenna is transformational in so many ways. I can’t count the number of times in my middle school teaching that I have thought, “If only that student had one good friend or one supportive adult.” What a difference that would make!
Students will enjoy the story told through Flint’s comic; I especially appreciated the fact that even the comic did not have an epic over-the-top, fight-to-the-finish, violent ending, but one of realization.
There are so many possibilities for classroom use. What if students took on #DannysChallenge? What if they reflected on their actions toward others and considered the power of forgiveness? One of the other strengths of this book is that it effectively portrays the difference between empathy and pity. As they demonstrated in their first book together, Mustaches for Maddie, husband and wife Chad Morris and Shelly Brown create situations with characters you will have an affinity for, and even if the end is not quite what you expect, you and the characters will have grown.
Susie Highley (mostly) enjoyed teaching middle/junior high school for nearly forty years in Indianapolis, first as a science teacher and then as a librarian. She just couldn’t leave middle school behind; she now works for the Indiana Middle Level Education Association, so she still has many opportunities to “hang with her peeps.” You can find her on twitter at @shighley