Larger-Then-Life Lara (A Middle-Grade Book Review)

5/5 stars (for adults - I really enjoyed this one).

4/5 stars for kids (I think you should know your child before handing them this book, because it wouldn't be a great one for every kid with some of the difficult themes).

Do you ever order a book and then realize later that it is actually a children's book?  Don't tell me I'm the only one.

When I ordered Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall, I honestly thought it was a novel for an adult audience, but then I started to suspect that maybe it was more of a middle-grade novel - and it arrived, and indeed it was.  The characters in this book are in the fourth grade, so I'm assuming it is meant for that age group, but I have to tell you, I loved this book.

Plot: The book is narrated by a fourth grade girl, Laney, who is trying to write a book about something significant that happened in her class.  She jumps into the story telling us about a new girl who arrived, named Lara, who is overweight but incessantly joyful.  Even as the other kids bully her, there is something about Lara that can't seem to be beaten down.

All of this is told from Laney's perspective, and she "writes" the book by breaking each chapter down into each story element, like "minor characters", "setting", "climax", etc, which I found really charming.  She also keeps insisting that this story is about Lara, not about her, which is cute because as a reader you know it really is about her, and how Lara affects her life.

Content: Laney does not have an easy life though, and there are some elements in this book that might warrant some guidance if a fourth grader were to be the one reading it.  Laney's family is poor and her dad does not take good care of them.  Laney's dad is an alcoholic, and her three older brothers cuss at her (not spelled out in the book) and call her mean names constantly.  There is a reference to magazines that her father does not want her brothers to see.  At one point we find out that Laney's dad slapped her on the cheek. This is the extent of physically abusive behavior from her dad that is spelled out in this book, but some more sensitive kids might find this disturbing.  

Aside from Laney's troubles at home, most of the story revolves around Lara being bullied at school because of her weight, and it got pretty cringe-worthy.  She handles it all with grace and kindness, which is an inspiring aspect to the story.

Spiritual Aspect: Even though this book is published by Tyndale, the Christian message in it isn't spelled out.  Parents, you are going to have to do that for your child yourself.  Verses like Matthew 7:12, Proverbs 31:26, and Matthew 18:21-22 come to mind.  Positive themes that you could expound on would be kindness, forgiveness, and joy.

My Thoughts:  The ending of this book was really good and believable.  Not everything is resolved at the end of this book - Laney ends with a better relationship with one of her brothers, which means she now has an ally at home, but none of her other home problems are resolved.  However, the whole class learns a lesson about bullying, and the example of kindness from Lara in this book would form some great basis for discussion.

As an adult reading this book, I was really invested in the characters and worried about what would happen to them - and the ending left enough strings untied that I still find myself thinking about Laney and worrying about where her life will go.  I really kind of wish there would be another book, because I would definitely read it.  For kids though...I don't know if I'd let my kids read this before age ten at least.  I think it would depend on the kid and how much real-life "hard stuff" they were able to handle at that age.  Great book for discussion between parents and kids though - I'd suggest reading this one together.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.
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