Monday, December 12, 2016


by Joan Bauer
Recommended Ages: 13+

Ellie, a high school junior in Rock River, Iowa, really cares about growing a giant pumpkin for the town's harvest fair. She calls it Max, and senses its moods, and eventually (with a bit of prodding from a cute classmate named Wes) even talks to it. She worries about bugs, hail damage, rot, and other natural hazards that can beset enormous vegetables. She worries, not without reason, about pumpkin burglars. She puts Max ahead of her homework, her social life, and even her relationship with her widower dad. All she wants, besides losing a few pounds of her own, is to see Max put on a lot of them and beat the reigning weigh-in contest champion, a slimy character named Cyril.

Ellie is joined in her gourd-driven quest by a baseball crazy cousin named Richard, a hysterical dog named Spider, and her wise Nana, who knows a lot about working with the soil. But she has to be a fighter to raise a giant pumpkin, a quest that will push her emotional and physical limits. Win or lose, raising Max will lead Ellie to find healing, romance, and the respect of her community.

This 1992 book was the first novel by the author of Rules of the Road and Hope Was Here. Having read these books, I sense a pattern in Bauer's work: a knack for discovering emotional truths in a story about a teenager with one all-absorbing, mature-for-her-years passion. Bauer's other titles since this book include Best Foot Forward, Thwonk, Sticks, Backwater, Stand Tall, Peeled, Close to Famous, Almost Home, Tell Me, and most recently, Soar.

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