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Review: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

by Kate Messner
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Walker Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0802798428

Gianna must collect and identify 25 leaves for a school project but life keeps getting in the way… In a small, understated book that delivers a multi-faceted plot with a gloriously well-developed character in Gianna Z, Kate Messner gives us an impressive middle grade debut.

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. joins some of my recent favorite middle grades like VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review) and WHEN YOU REACH ME (Read my review) as a book where family, identity and friendship mingle in a completely truthful way. Gianna wants to forge her own path at school, where a bully and academic setbacks frustrate her, but she also longs to define and deepen the relationships that mean the most to her: those with her family. As a character, she embodies the balance that’s so important in middle grade literature.

For Readers: Gianna will resonate with readers because she’s flawed — and that’s exactly why we love her! For the life of her, she can’t seem to concentrate on her project. She loses her temper. She can’t always hold her tongue. She’s not afraid to make mistakes, but she does suffer the consequences. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is all about one girl defining what’s important in her life… a process readers young and old can relate to on a fundamental level.

For Writers: Middle grade — when done right, as this is — features characters in a very turbulent time in their lives. They want to define themselves by their choices and their social status at school… but they might not be ready to leave the embrace of their family just yet. They need to strike out as individuals… but want reassurance that they’re on the right path. They like their independence… as long as there’s a shoulder to cry on. They have deep friendships with members of the opposite sex… that sometimes blossom into something more. Middle school is hormonal, enlightening, impossible and exhilarating. Writers who understand these nuances are in high demand.

Disclosure: Kate Messner is an ABLit client.

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