Recommended for readers 9-13
Marnus is a 13-year-old boy who’s tired of falling through the cracks in his family’s life. He’s not an athlete like his brother, and he’s not a financial wizard-slash-loan shark like his little brother, to whom he owes big bucks. A girl named Leila shows up at Marnus’ door, asking for signatures for a petition to save a local tree, and before Marnus realizes what he’s doing, he’s up in the tree next to Leila. Over the next few days, the two manage to gather a viral following, attract sponsors, and build the foundations to a new friendship.
Jaco Jacobs is a prolific South African author, with over 120 books to his credit. This latest novel, released in 2015 in Afrikaans, will resonate with readers here in the U.S., where young people are discovering activism at a younger age. Jacobs hits on the two-edged sword of activism: the empowerment of seeing kids take matters into their own hands when something is important to them, and the trap of viral popularity and its fleeting nature, paired with the frustration of having one’s passion seen as a “novelty” cause. The reason behind Leila’s activism are moving, and Marnus emerges as a sensitive, upbeat EveryKid. The characters have depth and are identifiable, from the two main characters to the parents who mean well but don’t always do well; the Rent-a-Cause college students; the developers who want to tear down the tree, and more. This is a solid addition to bookshelves – it would make a strong summer reading choice for middle schoolers, particularly with the wave of activism firing up this generation. There’s a wealth of book discussion topics to explore with this book, for adults as well as for tweens, from environmentalism to sibling relationships to divorced families.