Showing up is the start of all success.

I don’t fully agree with this quote, but I do find it thoroughly ironic that this is a tip of Roger’s when he ends up skipping multiple days in order to rewrite his history. Perhaps this is a sign he should pay attention to when growing as a person. And herein lies the biggest takeaway I have for Roger Tarkington and the Magic Calendar: Quest for Middle School Greatness by I.M. Mayndard. First, I don’t like Roger Tarkington. Second, I wholeheartedly loved his character development.

Roger Concerns

Roger begins his novel as a bullied kid eager for the first year without his bully. In fact, now that Kyle’s moved to a different school district, Roger is going to make middle school his best years yet. And it starts with his book of tips for middle school greatness, created by none other than Roger himself. He plans to take a proactive role in having a fantastic future.

And, barring an exceedingly concerning moment that involves darts and a picture of Kyle (YIKES), it seems very much as though he’s headed in that direction. Right up until Kyle shows up right next to his locker.

I do have to step back for a moment here:

Two things deeply bothered me about this book’s introduction.

The first is the dartboard picture, because damn. If I were a parent and I saw my kid was doing something like that I would be quite worried. And I’d definitely be annoyed if I learned they’d gotten the idea from a book they read. On it’s own, it makes me feel like Roger’s parents are very disengaged from taking care of their son’s mental health. Not only is this indicative of his having been bullied, but it also points to damaging behavior he’s using to deal with said bullying. And this is never addressed.

The second thing that really bothered me was the fact that the school’s Principal told Roger Kyle’s address. Uhm, what? Not only is that very illegal, but no Principal would ever give a student another student’s address. Frankly, the adults in this book are incredibly useless and inattentive. Of course, this is somewhat of a trend in middle grade novels, but when there are issues like this it does bug me. There are ways to do inattentive adults well and this isn’t it.

A Calendar Plan for Becoming a Better Person

Okay, so we’ve established that Roger is bullied and has some personal stuff to work through. He’s a kid who, unfortunately, has experienced a bit of trauma in his young life. That trauma, of course, being the years of bullying he has experienced at the hands of Kyle. So, it’s understandable that Roger, at times, acts like a bit of a brat. He’s very dismissive of Kyle’s feelings, which makes sense.

Of course, his snotty attitude toward Grandma didn’t really endear him to me that much; why was there never any apology, I wonder? But, he’s a kid and this isn’t something I see middle grade readers significantly disliking. Roger’s dealing with a lot now that he’s learned he was wrong about expecting a new school year without his bully. I get it.

When Roger gets a magic set for his birthday that he didn’t really want, he throws it at his calendar. Suddenly, that very same calendar develops the magical power that allows him to go back and repeat days, changing what happens in them. The only catch is that to do so means he loses the following day. And dang, I have to admit that I love this magic system. It’s utterly brilliant.

So, Roger sets about improving his year with the help of his magical calendar. However, not everything goes according to plan and suddenly not only is Roger’s life getting better, but so is Kyle’s.

Empathy Growth

What really strikes me about this story is the change Roger undergoes. At first he primarily uses the calendar for his own gain. But, as he uses it more, he slowly starts to use it to help others. Of course, when it starts to benefit Kyle he feels incredibly frustrated. And this is even to the point that he considers using the calendar’s powers for the evil of hurting his grade school bully.

And, in general, Roger’s motives here are very selfish and cruel. I, personally, would love to see him recon with those thoughts in the sequel. But, fortunately, you can tell as this novel winds down that Roger is starting to see the error of his ways. He’s beginning to recognize that, even though he and Kyle have a rough history, continuing to hurt each other because of it isn’t worth it.

I think what I really appreciated about this story is the fact that it has a genuine goal of building a message of compassion. And while I, at times, definitely didn’t like Roger I am pleased with the fact that he is gradually becoming a better person.

Until Next Time…

The novel as a whole does have some mild tone issues, existing in the fact that it does sometimes come across as an adult trying too hard sound like a “cool” kid. There are a few pop culture references throughout that I don’t think most middle graders these days would understand. As a result, it kind of seems like a callback for parents to recognize more than anything. It definitely dates the author a bit, since there are even parents out there now who I can’t say for certain would get all the references (my probably definitely wouldn’t).

There are a few moments that are indicative of a tell vs. show problem, though fortunately not too many. Then, the teacher’s names are, quite frankly, ridiculous. I dunno about you, but I never had anything near a Coach Radish or Principal Quack. Maybe one crazy name would’ve been alright, but two?

I do think it’s cool that each chapter starts with one of Roger’s “tips for middle school greatness,” however, they do become kind of useless the further along in the novel you got. I didn’t really see a problem with this in hindsight. Maybe it’s a sign that Roger needed these tips less as he developed as a person?

Roger’s story is certainly incomplete, with a sequel on the horizon for 2021. Ending on a cliffhanger, the novel leaves readers curious to know what’s going to happen next in this crazy journey. And I think it leaves readers with hope for what growth Roger can achieve. He’s already found himself a starting point.

I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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