Sixth-grader Peter is good at lots of things, from making jokes to quoting lines from his favorite classic movies. But fitting in? Not so much--having autism spectrum disorder makes it hard to fly under the radar when you're surrounded by elementary school bullies. When his parents announce their latest solution—spending the summer with a grandmother he’s never met on the remote Johnson Island—he has no reason to believe that summer on some island in the middle of nowhere will be any different than the misery of elementary school.
However, life on Johnson Island isn’t nearly as terrible as Peter (or Pete, as everyone on the island seems to insist on calling him) was expecting—especially once he meets witty, sarcastic twins Kat and Sofia, who appreciate his sense of humor and retro movie t-shirts. Before he knows it, he’s playing manhunt and having water gun fights with the other island kids, and learning about all of Johnson Island’s quirky traditions—and for the first time, he begins to feel that he belongs. The islanders have been financially struggling ever since weed management company Meta-Gro abruptly ended all research at their facility there, but the community has remained tight-knit and welcoming. And while yes, Gram makes Pete learn to swim and do chores (weeding every day!), it’s really not so bad with two new friends at his side.
Yet there’s something strange about Johnson Island—and when a spontaneous bet leads Pete and the twins to discover the secret behind Meta-Gro’s hurried removal from the island, they’re forced to face off with a failed experiment worthy of any of Pete’s favorite movies. Except….can a quirky, nerdy underdog really be the one to save the day?
A perfect read to for the beginning of summer, The Summer My Grandmother’s Yard Tried to Kill Me is a delightful debut! Pete’s well-rounded character, quirky narration and consistent sense of humor make him irresistible; it’s incredibly satisfying to watch him grow and ultimately triumph over the course of the story as he learns the importance of accepting and celebrating yourself for who you are. Details such as Pete’s impressive knowledge of classic movies, the islanders’ unique, often amusing slang words and phrases, and the island traditions bring the story to life. It’s a fast, fun, engaging read; older middle grade readers will enjoy reading it on their own, while it’s also a great story for younger ones to read with their parents. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as a high schooler as well! Full of deft humor, quirky, caring friendships, and winning characters, I would highly recommend The Summer My Grandmother’s Yard Tried to Kill Me to readers ages eight and up.
Note: Check out our interview with the author, Harry Harvey!