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Title: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
Author: Barbara O’Connor
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
May Contain Spoilers
An amazing secret has tumbled off a freight train into Carter, Georgia, and Owen Jester is the only person who knows about it. If he can simply manage to evade his grandfather’s snappish housekeeper, organize his two best friends, and keep his nosy neighbor, Viola, at bay, he just might be in for the summer of a lifetime. With her trademark wit and easy charm, Barbara O’Connor spins a fantastic fable of friends, enemies, and superbly slimy bullfrogs.
When I saw the cover of The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, I had to read it. Why? There is a big ole bullfrog floating in the water, and a tiny submarine behind it. Just like Owen, I have a secret, too. I love frogs. And turtles, and toads, and snakes. Why? They eat bugs, and if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s a bug. They always sneak up on you with their billion legs, all creepy and crawly and scary. I hate bugs, so it is only natural that I would like critters that eat them.
Protagonist Owen Jester is a bit of a brat. Actually, he’s just your average, overly energetic kid, with a special knack for getting into trouble. After his father loses his job, his family moves in with his bed-ridden grandfather, and the move isn’t sitting well with Owen. His friends live further away, nosy Viola lives next door and she can’t seem to stay out of his business, and Earlene, his grandfather’s housekeeper, does nothing but lecture him and complain about his messes.
When Owen hears something fall off the train as it rumbles over the tracks at the back of the property, he is determined to find whatever it is that fell off. With the help of his friends, Travis and Stumpy, and some unwanted assistance from bossy Viola as well, Owen makes the discovery of a lifetime. Can he keep it a secret from his parents and Earlene?
My first impression of this book is that it’s a “boy” book. I hate to use labels like that, but I think that this will have so much more appeal for MG boys than girls. Owen was difficult for me to relate to, and at first, I didn’t like him much. He is mean to both Earlene and Viola, and once he decides what he wants, he pursues it with a stubborn intensity, even when he knows he’s doing the wrong thing. I was so happy that he shows development during his summer adventure, and he begins to think about other people and their feelings. It changed my opinion of him, and by the end of the book, I actually liked him.
Despite my difficulty getting to know and like Owen, I still enjoyed it. I think this book will be a hit with reluctant MG boys. It’s a quick read, about one boy’s magical summer, and how a once in a lifetime discovery changes his relationships with his friends, as well as his nemesis.
Review copy obtained from my local library