Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Sixth grader Christian, better known as Mac, can solve your problems. Need to get into an R-rated movie without being caught? Want that video game your parents won't let you have? Need the answers to a test? Mac can help you. For a price.

Mac and his best friend Vince run a little business from a disused bathroom in his K-8 school. They started it to help people, but they're also making a killing: specifically, almost $6,000 they're planning to use for baseball tickets in the unlikely event that the Cubs make it to the World Series. But...the Cubs are doing really well. This could be the year! The only problem is Fred, a nervous third grader who comes to Mac with a particularly tricky problem. The legendary figure of Staples is running a crooked book-making business in the area schools, and he's just expanded into Mac's school; Fred's a former bookie who wants out. He needs protection. But before long, Mac realizes he's in way over his head. If he can't take down Staples once and for all, Mac could lose his business, his money--and his best friend.

For the most part, the book is a lot of fun (and often very funny), especially the first section where Mac and Vince are discovering just who and what they're up against. But as the story progressed, I started to have more and more problems with it.

Nothing Mac and Vince do actually helps them--in fact, every single attempt they make to solve their increasing problems just makes things worse. It got to the point that I felt the hand of the author among all the misery, and I was right. They can't make progress because then they couldn't have the big showdown at the end.

But the showdown was lame. I was bitterly disappointed. In fact, the whole book turned into a Moral Lesson on seeing things from other people's points of view. And the point the whole book was building to, the "HELL YES" moment when the good guys triumph and the bad guys get taken down the way they tried to take down the good never came. Instead we get a few didactic paragraphs and an unsatisfying denouement about the Cubs.

Because of the lame ending, and the near-absence of girl characters in the book, I wouldn't give this to my nephews to read. I'm glad I bought it as an ebook, because if I'd dropped money for the hardback I'd be pissed. Oh, and the main character has the same first name as the author, which always bothers the hell out of me.

B&N link

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