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Grendel’s Guide to Love and War: A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst by A.E. Kaplan [in Shelf Awareness]

Tom Grendel can divide his 17-year-old life in “exactly three phases: before Mom, after Mom but before Dad/Iraq, and my current post-Dad/Iraq period.” Tom’s mother died suddenly when he was 9. His father deployed to Iraq, leaving Tom and his sister, Zipora, with their grandmother. Dad returned as the sole limbs-intact survivor of an IED explosion, Zip left for college, father and son moved “to our quiet house by the lake, and all was well… enough, anyway.”

Besides doing lawncare for the neighborhood’s mostly elderly women, summer vacation was supposed to be spent hanging out with best buddy Ed Park. Then TV journalist Ellen and her two teenagers – intractable Rex and enticing Willow – move in next door, and Ellen promptly disappears to cover an out-of-state story – leaving the house party-ready. The unrelenting thumping music into the wee hours is enough to trigger Tom’s father’s PTSD, exiling him to a Florida business trip. His absence gives Tom two weeks to stop the madness before Dad can come home. Complications grow – inept, bribable police, Willow’s kisses, the enabling appearance of Rex and Willow’s cousin Wolf, and the return of prodigal sister Zip.

A.E. Kaplan’s debut novel proves raucous and entertaining, but it’s also got centuries-old history attached: literary aficionados might recognize enough of the characters’ unique names and plot lines as an homage to Beowulf, albeit epically reimagined and reclaimed from Grendel’s point of view. Old English lesson aside, Kaplan’s witty writing – enhanced with attack dogs, high pigs, long-lost love letters, and a (really awful) painting – should do just fine as boisterous, contemporary fun.

Discover: Tom Grendel could never have predicted that his summer vacation might involve loud parties, pranks-gone-wrong, missing parents, needy elderly, and (of course) the girl next door.

Review: “Children’s & Young Adult,” Shelf Awareness, April 21, 2017

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2017

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