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Me and Marvin Gardens

Review

Me and Marvin Gardens

I was thrilled to see that Amy Sarig King, who also publishes under the name A.S. King, had written her first middle grade novel, as young adults (and the adults who love to read young adult literature) have been blessed with her work for some time now. King is an author who I have had my eye on ever since reading her young adult fantasy novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, which I still look back on with a “Huh, that was weird, but so good!”

Needless to say, King doesn’t disappoint with ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, her middle grade debut. ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is one part fantasy, one part contemporary realistic fiction, one part treatise on caring for our fragile ecosystem, one part King’s homage to the land she lost in her youth, and a billion other parts that all add up to awesomeness.

"I highly recommend ME AND MARVIN GARDENS to anyone. I think that it will appeal to all types of readers from those who like an underdog story to those who like contemporary realistic fiction to those who like their stories with a dash of weird."

Obe Devlin loves the land that surrounds his family’s home and thrives on spending time outdoors, especially along Devlin’s Creek. The 175 acres surrounding Obe’s home used to belong to his family but was slowly sold off by his grandfather as he drank more and more of the family’s money. Every few chapters Obe’s present-tense narrative is interrupted by a chapter titled, “One Hundred Years Ago,” which shares something that was happening on the Devlin land or in the Devlin family 100 years ago. In his short life, Obe has watched housing developments go up around his family home and encroach on the land that he adores. The new housing developments have brought devastation to Obe and the environment.

In addition to dealing with the loss of his land, Obe is also dealing with the loss of his best friend Tommy, who has befriended the “development kids.” Obe knows that he is a bit different, but Tommy used to appreciate his differentness and they did everything together. But now Tommy mocks Obe along with his new friends and participates in activities, such as paintball, that are bad for the land. Every time that Obe thinks about Tommy and his new friends, he gets a nose bleed.

One day, while spending time along Devlin’s Creek, Obe sees an unusual animal. At first he is scared, but his curiosity gets the best of him and his investigation reveals an animal that is difficult to classify. It is part dog, part pig and all weird. And, perhaps, the strangest thing is the creature’s diet --- it eats plastic. Obe eventually befriends the creature and names it Marvin Gardens. Obe keeps Marvin Gardens a secret but worries about the impact of the housing developments and destruction of the land on Marvin Gardens. However, he also wonders how Marvin Gardens might be able to assist in combating environmental issues, such as litter, with his diet. Obe’s concern for the environment is aptly summarized in the following statement from the end of the book, “A lot can happen in one hundred years. Maybe if everyone realized that we could change the world, we’d learn to live differently” (p. 237).

In reading King’s acknowledgements and the “About the Author” section it is very evident that ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is a very personal story for King. During her childhood, King witnessed the destruction of the cornfields that surrounded her family’s home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She writes, “The day the bulldozers came to dig up my field was the day I started to dream of having my own farm. If you’ve ever seen something beautiful and magical be replaced with something more convenient, then you know why this story took me thirty years to write” (About the Author). This was an event that clearly had a deep impact on King and shaped her life. In a way, ME AND MARVIN GARDENS is the culmination, as she writes in her acknowledgments, “I could never find meaning in the destruction of my perfect cornfield until I wrote this book; now I know every adventure I’ve lived was because I witnessed its demolition.” I include this information from the acknowledgments and the “About the Author” section as I believe it gives additional depth and meaning to ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, although the book on its own has plenty of depth and meaning.

I highly recommend ME AND MARVIN GARDENS to anyone. I think that it will appeal to all types of readers from those who like an underdog story to those who like contemporary realistic fiction to those who like their stories with a dash of weird. And like THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, readers may very well look back on ME AND MARVIN GARDENS and think, “Huh, that was weird, but so good!”

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on April 28, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens
by A.S. King