By Mary Amato
Lerner Chanse hates her life. Her family just moved from Wisconsin to Washington, D. C. She has to start over in a sixth grade class that’s been divided up into ferocious cliques. And then she finds a worm that eats words instead of dirt. When the worm eats a word, that item disappears from the world as if it never existed.
Lerner has some big decisions to make. Should she use the worm’s magic to erase things bothering her? What about people? Can she make something as big as poverty disappear? What about meanness? And what happens when her next door neighbor, the meanest kid in class, finds out about the magic worm and steals it?
This book is delightful, but clearly aimed at children. This is a grade school book and should be read as such. Despite the intended audience, I enjoyed the fact that the plot never remains static for long. First, Lerner has to figure out how the worm works. Then, she has to deal with her neighbor. Then the cliques. Then… well, the morphing nature of the plot keeps the book from resting on status quo. Also, opposed to many such novels, the problems are not neatly swept away at the end. The author instead opts to show a more realistic solution to the problems (despite the fantastic nature of the premise).
The biggest issue I had with the book was the font. Now, it’s not often that fonts are an issue. The print in a novel works best when it’s not noticed. The editor chose to use a “cute” font. I’m not entirely sure which one it is, but it has a certain flow and flourish to it. The problem is that capital c’s and g’s are easily mistaken for one another. It took me a good thirty pages to ascertain that the main character’s last name was Chanse and not Ghanse. If the print throws a reader out of the story, even for a moment, it’s not a good font to use!
On the plus side, characters are realistically drawn; even the bullies have personalities beyond “I beat you up now.” Teachers also have a range of character traits, as opposed to various cardboard cutouts.
I also enjoyed how the author showed the wider range of the worm’s magic. An early meal for the worm are the words “Jay’s Star,” which refer to a newly discovered star. Sure enough, the star vanishes, and astronomers are puzzled, to say the least. The book continually touches on the astronomers in short vignettes, though their action never directly affects the main characters. They make for fun breaks from the usual story. I enjoyed these interruptions, but I could see how such diversions might frustrate other readers.
I’d recommend this for a child to read, particularly one who feels he or she is an outcast at school. I wouldn’t recommend it for an adult, though, unless they’ve got a love of children’s books!