Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It is a middle grade novel about a biracial boy who, the summer after his fifth grade year, learns a few things about racism and forgiveness. Brendan Buckley hasn't worried about his race too much up until then. He's more focused on being a scientist, and taking a scientific approach to answering life's questions. However, a chance meeting with his estranged, white grandfather, Ed, forces Brendan to confront long-buried family tensions.
I'm not a big fan of "issue books", as a general rule. But Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It doesn't feel like an issue book (though racial relations play a large part in the story). Brendan is a strong, likeable character. He's the kind of kid who wonders what dust is made of, so he looks it up, and checks out some dust using his microscope. He's not generally a troublemaker (in fact he's the peacemaker in his family), but he's willing to lie to his parents in the interest of learning more about his long-lost grandfather.
Brendan has believable relationships with his best friend Khalfani, his parents, and his grandma Gladys. He develops an interest in rock-hunting, only partially as a way to get to know mineralogist Ed better. In short, Brendan is much more than just his grandma's "milk chocolate" boy, and Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It is much more than just a book about the travails of being biracial.
Here are a couple of quotes, to give a feel for the book:
"I was busy researching a question that come to me during dessert the night before: How do they get the ripple in fudge ripple ice cream?
Here is What I Found Out: They pour fifth gallons of fudge into a two-hundred-gallon vat of vanilla ice cream, and a machine stirs it around with a paddle the size of a Ping-Pong table." (Chapter 2)
Who wouldn't love a kid who likes to find out things like this?
"When I woke up again, I had the Jitters. The Jitters is what happens before I know something, but after I realize I don't know it. Gladys says I get ants in my pants. I think of it as an electrical storm going off in my body." (Chapter 3)
"Dori's only four, but she thinks she rules the place. She once told a policeman who came to investigate a neighborhood break in that even he had to take off his shoes before he could come in. Being around Khalfani's little sister makes me think it's not so bad being an only child." (Chapter 4)
There aren't a lot of plot surprises to Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It, and the whole story does rely on a coincidence (a chance meeting between Brendan and Ed). But those are minor quibbles. Overall, it's refreshing to find a book that tackles racism head-on, from the viewpoint of a three-dimensional, middle-class, brown-skinned protagonist. I enjoyed meeting Brendan Buckley, and I look forward to reading the newly published Brendan Buckley's Sixth Grade Experiment. Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It would make a great choice for reluctant middle school readers, especially boys. (There are a couple of Brendan and Khal's experiments that will particularly appeal.) Recommended.
Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 2007
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle
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