The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

A gripping story about friendship, truth and breaking boundaries told in a powerful, original and authentic eleven-year-old voice.

Eleven-year-old Maggie lives in Fennis Wick, a small town where the inhabitants scrape out a life in the fields. No-one ever goes beyond the town boundaries because of the ‘Quiet War’ and the dirty and dangerous ‘wanderers’. No-one, that is, except the first born from each family (‘the eldests’) and the Mayor – the eldests are required to leave when they turn fourteen and the Mayor takes them to camp to become heros in the war. As the second born (sandwiched between her eldest brother, Jed, and youngest, Trig), Maggie is a ‘middler’ – the one who’s always overlooked, left behind and invisible. Maggie is determined to be a hero too. When she meets a wanderer girl, Una, in the graveyard, Maggie thinks her chance has finally come. If she catches the wanderers, she can be a hero just like the eldests. Soon, however, events cause Maggie to question everything she’s ever been told and she’s no longer convinced what being a hero really means.

The Middler opens with a three line prologue:

Our eldest, Jed, got born first out of us.
Our youngest, Trig – he got born four years later.
And me, Maggie, I was in-between. The middler, worse luck.

I don’t normally include direct quotes in my reviews but, in this case, I’m going to make an exception – well, actually, more than one exception. Partly because I love everything about the writing in this book and partly because I can’t think of a way to describe Maggie’s distinctive voice. Although, it’s not just the voice that makes Maggie stand out as a character. Debut author, Kirsty Applebaum, has also perfectly captured the thoughts of an eleven-year-old. From the moment Maggie’s precious summer diary is overlooked, we sympathise with her predicament as ‘the middler’ and share her desire to stand out.

As the reader, we’re also allowed to be almost one step ahead of Maggie. For example, here’s Maggie’s thoughts when she gets out of bed at night to sneak into the kitchen:

Had to get Una some food.
To catch her. Not to help her.
She was a wanderer. Dirty, dangerous, deceitful.
I wasn’t going to help her.

This opportunity to read between the lines works brilliantly and leaves the reader constantly wanting to explain to Maggie what’s really going on, especially when the plot ramps up a gear to become truly gripping (if a little uncomfortable at times). While reading, it also meant I was constantly trying to anticipate the next reveal from the snippets of information that Maggie has acquired and enjoying the fact that I usually figured it out just before Maggie herself.

The Middler, however, has more than just a combination of amazing characterisation, powerful voice and gripping plot. It’s also a story about trust and betrayal. In a totally age appropriate way, it highlights how people can be persuaded to believe almost anything. Indeed, there is one line that has haunted me ever since I finished reading: ‘…if people want to believe something, there’s very little you can do to change it.’ (In the current political climate around the world, this seems depressingly true). Fortunately, however, The Middler is also a story of hope and of friendship and concludes with Maggie breaking down boundaries and saving the day – becoming a true hero.

If you enjoyed this and are looking for another middle grade story with a distinctive (yet very different) voice, why not try The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins or Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory.

ISBN: 978-1788003452
Publication date: April 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Pages: 272
Madge's 5 / 5 Star Book rating

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