Only a middle grade book can successfully disguise itself as a spy thriller wrapped in fantasy and still educate its reader about the value of perspective and the importance of cultural awareness. The hilarious (or tragic!) story of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin pays homage to the famous travel writers of history while poking fun at the experiences of trying to bring your own ideals to a new land.
At first glance the book appears to mimic Brian Selznick’s work with the story alternating between written and illustrated sections. But, unlike the art in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the illustrations in Spurge tell a completely different story then the narration. And this insanely clever trick beautifully demonstrates how a different perspective and upbringing can result in two entirely different experiences even when two people are in the same place at the same time.
In Spurge the elfin historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent on a mission to spy on the goblin city. Unfortunately, Goblin archivist Warfel thinks he is hosting an emissary and plans for the two to become great friends! As Warfel proudly shows Spurge around his beloved neighborhood and city and introduces him to important people he becomes more and more discouraged by Spurge’s attitude. And then he discovers Spurge’s underlying plan! What will Warfel do with the spy?
Warfel is the foreign host we all hope to have when we travel into unknown lands. He is kind and proud and willing to put his good name, reputation and even his life on the line to keep his guest comfortable. Sadly, even without the spying Spurge is the annoying and judgmental guest who comes into a land already prepared to hate everything he sees. Still, watching the characters grow and change was an absolute delight.
This book was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award and it shows. In addition, I can only imagine how useful this story would be to parents and teachers for explaining how perspective, culture, and history (especially of conquered peoples) vastly alters our present experiences. And, more importantly, how without frank dialogue and an open mind, neither side will be able to see from the other’s point of view.
If you aren’t already convinced by my glowing review, please check out the funny book trailer by the authors here.
Tell me, please!
Do you find that YA and Middle Grade books are often more poignant in delivering messages than adult books?
Very interesting observations on the alternating story lines. I like the recommendations for applications at the end.
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Thank you! I always find well written middle school grades surprisingly applicable to everyone.