“All this time I thought I was helping Jake, but he's been helping me, too.”
―Naomi Miliner, Super Jake & The King of Chaos
How's it going? Me, I'm doing well. Especially because I get to come on here and tell you all about books that I like. And, for this month, I have a surprise for you: In addition to this book review, there's an interview with Naomi Milliner, the author of Super Jake & The King of Chaos! The review will post at 1:30 PM today, so get ready to learn some really cool things about the author.
For now, though, let's discuss the book.
I must admit that Super Jake & the King of Chaos took me by surprise. It's been a while since I read a middle grades novel that was set in the real world. Most of the books I read are of the fantasy variety―like Kwame Mbalia's Tristan Strong or Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, or they take place in the future―like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies. But Super Jake & The King of Chaos has its own form of magic and I am here for it (I don't have the clapping emoji, but read that last sentence as though they are there)!
The thing is, I wouldn't have even known about this book if I hadn't reached out to the author via Twitter to see if she'd be interested in doing the interview. So, thanks Naomi for agreeing to it! Anyways, let's delve into this review, shall we?
What's the novel about?
Eleven-year-old Ethan is a magic whiz who wants to participate in a junior magic competition and meet his hero, Magnus the Magnificent.
To accomplish this, he does everything he can from improving his grades to befriending the new kid in school. It takes a while, but finally, it happens.
Ethan is able to attend the competition, and he even places in the top five!
But then Jake gets sick, and Ethan must decide what's more important: his desire to meet Magnus, or being there for his brother. In this story of family, love, and magic, the reader is whisked into a world where stress and hardship become manageable with just a little bit of faith.
What themes are present in the book?
The them that stands out the most in this book is that Family comes first.
Speaking of family, check out this video of Jesse Milliner (aka Freddy) reading the first chapter of Super Jake.
I'll be the first to admit that quality time is one of my love languages―I'm pretty sure it's because I have older siblings and a mom who LOVE to do family activities, which means that I'm prone to read books and watch movies that have strong ties to this particular theme. So, this book about brothers and putting other's needs before our own that explores the ties that we have to our loved ones is right up my alley.
There are several moments in the book where Ethan is so devoted to Jake that you almost forget that he's only twelve. Take, for instance, the following scene (of which I've omitted some parts to add to the suspense): "I am trapped, like Jake. There are so many things he’ll probably never do, but he smiles anyway – even all those times I let him down… Tears slide down my cheeks. I don’t move a muscle to wipe them. Words ricochet in the dark without being spoken: I’m sorry, Jake. So sorry.”
Tears slide down my cheeks. I don’t move a muscle to wipe them. Words ricochet in the dark without being spoken: I’m sorry, Jake. So sorry.”
There are also scenes where Ethan, Jake, and his other brother Freddy hang out and Ethan tells them cute stories about "Food Island"; where Ethan comes up with the great idea to give Jake a birthday party; and when they decide to do a fundraiser for Jake and the other children with disabilities at the park. And, of course, the major scene toward the end of the book which I won't spoil here.
While I'm sure there are other themes in the book, the only other major one that should be discussed is to take responsibility for your actions.
When Ethan punches Ned, he's essentially told that he can't go to the magic show unless he apologizes, and you wonder if he ever will because, while he's upset that he won't be able to go, he also believes that he would do it all over again―even though he knows what the consequences will be.
There's also a moment where Ethan takes responsibility for Freddy running from their neighbors's house. Say what you will about tweens' but, for a 12-year-old, Ethan is more responsible than we give most young individuals credit for.
What did you like?
There was a lot to like about this book, but I think what most stood out to me was the voice. I read a ton of books, and sometimes the voice in which they are written is great, while other times it's godawful. What I loved about the voice of this book is how, even though it's a middle-grade novel, it didn't read like one.
Let me explain.
A lot of middle-grade novels that I've read in the past, and even some that I read now, treat the readers as though they need to be hand-held. The words are overly simple, and they read the way you would expect an elementary school student would speak as opposed to the age group it's actually meant for.
But not this book.
Super Jake & The King of Chaos reads the way that I would expect a book about a 12-year-old kid to read. It's funny, intelligent, and doesn't dumb down some of the harder subjects, like Jake's disability.
Speaking of that, I also loved the fact that while this story is as simple as a boy wanting to go to a magic competition and meet his hero, it's also very much about his little brother and how a family copes with a member who has a disability that can be difficult to manage.
I'm not an expert when it comes to disabilities, I've been blessed with a family where the only major illness has been that of Alzheimer's and one or two forms of cancer―none of which were from birth to death, but I am happy that publishing has opened up more to where these subjects can be discussed and where an author like Milliner, who does have experience with it, is able to share her perspective.
Last, I loved how emotional the book was. I literally laughed, cried, and got excited when the characters did, and I think that is the hallmark of a true writer. Being able to bring out the emotions of your reader is the absolute best thing that all writers should aspire to.
What, if anything, did you dislike or wish the author would've done differently?
The only gripe that I had with this novel was the description. With most books, the premise or summary―whatever you want to call it―happens by the middle of the book. So, when reading, I assumed that we would see Ethan dominating at the magic show toward the middle of the book.
But, here's a small spoiler: Those scenes happen closer to the end of the book, not that the dog below seems to mind.
Anyways, if you pick up this novel, just keep in mind that the "promise of the premise" doesn't occur until the end of the book.
Of course, the summary that I gave at the beginning of this book review is only slightly more detailed in this regard and, honestly, I don't think the synopsis is completely up to the author.
If you don't typically read real-world fiction for middle grades, why did you choose to read and review this one?
Great question! I chose this book for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to read something out of my element.
Like I said earlier, I've got a penchant for choosing things of the fantastical, mythical, and mystical variety, books that take me out of the real world. But I recognize that, as a writer, I need to get out of my element from time to time. This seemed like a good time to do that.
Which, leads to the second reason why: I wanted to take the opportunity to interview some of my peers and jumpstart the Fun Facts segment of this blog, and Naomi was gracious enough to let me interview her. It was a win-win for both of us. I get to read and review an awesome book, and she got to tell me all about how she was able to publish such an amazing book.
How many stars would you give this book and why?
Super Jake & The King of Chaos gives a glimpse into what it's like to grow up with a special needs sibling. The writing is truthful and raw, yet still fun. For that reason, I give this book 4.5 stars out of five.
Naomi Milliner is the author of Super Jake & The King of Chaos. Her book is available in bookstores and at the library. For information on what she's up to, and adventures with her characters, you can visit her website.
If you enjoyed this review and want to know more about her, check out this interview.
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