Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
The Maker-Man of Merryville by Pete Mesling is the first book I read as a reviewer for Blackberry Book Tours! I typically don’t read a lot of middle grade books, but one of my reading goals this year was to read more, so this book was the perfect opportunity!
The book is about Gilbert and Sarah, two children who anxiously awaited the opening of a new toy store in their dreary town, Merryville. When given the chance to travel to a new world through a mysterious portal, both kids jump at the opportunity; Gilbert because he wants to find a way to bring joy back to Merryville, and Sarah because she wants to make her father proud.
Overall, the novel was pretty good. It would be a great book to introduce younger readers to the genre of fantasy! I felt like Mesling did a phenomenal job at staying true to Gilbert’s and Sarah’s age, which is really important for me in a middle grade book. I think a lot of authors focus so much on the plot, that the characters don’t always feel like 12-year-olds, but that was not the case with Gilbert and Sarah.
Additionally, many of the supporting characters were extremely lovable. Snarl and Belch specifically were so endearing, and I don’t think a single child (and maybe some adults) will read this book without secretly imagining their favorite stuffed animals coming to life. Likewise, Ripplecot was probably the most compelling character, and I would be highly interested in reading a spin-off novel about him. His character was very complex, and despite being a secondary character, he added a lot to the story.
I did feel like the story was a little lost through the quick and constant changing of perspectives. Perhaps in a longer novel I would not have felt this way, but sometimes it simply felt like I was switching perspectives too often.
Furthermore, my only other issue with the book is not necessarily something unique to this novel, but something I see in a lot of middle grade fantasy novels. The book focused a lot on Gilbert, and fell into some potentially harmful stereotypes with Sarah.
I’m not saying that anything about the book was wrong or bad, but I would like to see more middle grade fantasy novels with unapologetically confident female characters. Sometimes Sarah felt excessively passive, and the whole idea that the reason why she wanted to travel to another world was to make her father proud seemed very confining to me. I think young girls need more books where they see themselves as independent, assertive, daring, confident, etc. All of the things that Gilbert was, but which were frequently lost in Sarah.
Finally, the strongest point in the book was the philosophical ideas that were introduced in a light, yet thought-provoking way. Throughout the novel Mesling incorporated ideas that encourage readers to think more deeply. I thought this was a great way to introduce younger readers to philosophy. This extra addition to the novel made it all the more enjoyable for me.
All in all, The Maker-Man of Merryville was a fun middle grade fantasy, that would be perfectly suited for introducing younger readers to fantasy and philosophical ideas!