Jun 9, 2014

Review: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating

Title: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
Author: Jess Keating
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publishing Date: June 3, 2014
Pages/Format: 288, eARC
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What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo?

Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.

Book in One Word: ADORKABLE!

Here's the deal: Middle Grade is not a genre I've really read. But lately I've been hearing about all these Middle Grade books that sound AWESOME--like How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied--so I decided I'd try some of the books in the genre/age group/category/whatever you want to call it out. And I'm happy I started with Crocodile, because, um, why didn't I read Middle Grade books before?!
"The school year is almost up, and your hormones are probably turning you all into little monsters."
Pre-read, it wasn't hard for this book to pull me in. First of all, there's a crocodile on the cover. Then the synopsis mentions that the main character has zoologist parents (I want to be a zoologist!), she lives in a zoo (SO JEALOUS), and there's a hint about some romance (which I love), so, you know, SOLD, TO THE LADY WRITING THIS REVIEW. But I'll admit that I was worried that I wouldn't like this book, because this isn't something I usually read (I'm mainly a YA reader). However, that doesn't matter, because, YAY, this book doesn't disappoint!
"It's like teenage kryptonite, all that bright light when you're tired."
Our protagonist Ana has some problems, which she thinks may have all started when her parents named her after a freaking anaconda. She's just finishing up seventh grade (middle grade SUCKS, people), and her best friend Liv moved far far away to New Zealand ("With the sheep and the hobbits"), and now Ana feels totally lost, especially since she has to deal with the Sneerers (a.k.a. the mean girls at school) all by herself, and that's not working out too well. Plus she has a mega-crush on Zack, the popular guy in school who doesn't even know her name (he calls her Annie). And on top of all that, Ana feels like she lacks bravery, isn't fit out for all this animal stuff (like her parents and grandfather with the Crocodile Hunter-esque fame), and she's just really lost. So, you know, middle school!
"...there was something addictive and thrilling about getting to unload random facts to someone who didn't already know them."
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied certainly had some depth (much more than I thought it would, too), but it also had lots and lots of fun stuff. This isn't written like your average novel; it has a bunch of excellent tidbits throughout that are such a great addition to the story. For example, each chapter is headed with a bit of Animal Wisdom, and the occasional note from Ana. There are also several lists, like "Top Motherly Tricks: A Marvel of Science or Black Magic?" And then there were Creature Files (descriptions of characters), which were so stinkin' fun and adorable and I loved them. Plus there were some cute little crocodiles, so...
"To put it his way, if my life were a pie chart, a huge chunk of it was spent wishing math hadn't been invented. The other little sliver was spent wanting to pelt whomever did invent it with cat litter. What a waste of pie."
But really, this book was so well written and full of great components. Ana's voice was fantastic, with her worries and quirks and excellent metaphors and pop culture references. (See a preview of her voice here, where I interviewed her and Daz!) Her parents were good, her grandfather and his girlfriend Sugar (yes, Sugar) fun additions, and her twin brother Daz perfectly annoying, as siblings are. I can't say too much about Liv because we didn't see much of her (except that I'm kind of whatever toward her), but I will say that the Sneerers were horrible and cruel and evil (except maybe not Brooke). Bella was a nice friend, Darwin the parrot was, of course, awesome, and I loooved Kevin. KevAna, I SHIP IT. He's actually Daz's best friend, but come on, there's totally something there between Kevin and Ana. (And I expect to see it in the sequel, Jess Keating!)
"Seriously, how did people escape their lives before libraries?"
In the end, I quite liked--and maybe even almost loved--this book. Seriously. It was just so fun and adorkable and the whole zoo thing had my heart. (And the quotes I put in this review really don't do the book justice, but they're what I highlighted, so...) This book made me cringe for poor Ana and her magnetism for embarrassment (I kid you not, this kid is the poster child for how to embarrass yourself), but it also made me smile (a lot at the end) and laugh out loud (which I don't think I do a lot when reading, so well done!). If I had to file a complaint, I guess I'd say that sometimes Ana was a little repetitive and obsessive with some things, maybe? But really, that's just me nitpicking, because as I write this review I can't think of any issues I had with Crocodile. And it was so awesome to see Ana go on her journey, and at the end I was like, "You go, girl!" Again: Why haven't I been reading Middle Grade books?! Because if they're anything like How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, then they must be pretty darn good and I am seriously missing out. Now, when I can learn How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel?

Did I like it? Yes!
Did I love it? Kind of sort of!
Would I reread it? Maybe!
Would I purchase it? Yesss!
Who would I recommend it to? Everyone, especially people who like stories that are full of lots of fun (and some animal shenanigans).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and that in no way sways my opinion of the book.


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