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And Then, Boom! : A Librarian’s Perspective Review

And Then…BOOM! by Lisa Fipps gives readers an inside look at child abandonment, hunger, and a young boy’s will to survive. The friendships are sweet, and the survival tactics heartbreaking. A must for every elementary and middle school library.

Novel in Verse
And Then, Boom!

Author: Lisa Fipps

Publication date: May 7, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction, novel in verse

Recommended for: Grades 4-8

Setting: trailer park

Themes: homelessness, hunger, parental neglect, superheroes, comics, dogs, grandmothers, parent in jail, depression, foster care, poverty, tornadoes, trailer parks, survival

Protagonists: male, 6th grader, white

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly and Booklist

Pages: 256


See it on Amazon

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Joe Oak is used to living on unsteady ground. His mom can’t be depended on as she never stays around long once she gets “the itch,” and now he and his beloved grandmother find themselves without a home.

Fortunately, Joe has an outlet in his journals and drawings and takes comfort from the lessons of comic books — superheroes have a lot of “and then, boom” moments, where everything threatens to go bust but somehow they land on their feet. And that seems to happen a lot to Joe too, as in this crisis his friend Nick helps them find a home in his trailer park.

But things fall apart again when Joe is suddenly left to fend for himself. He doesn’t tell anyone he’s on his own, as he fears foster care and has hope his mom will come back.

But time is running out — bills are piling up, the electricity’s been shut off, and the school year’s about to end, meaning no more free meals. The struggle to feed himself gets intense, and Joe finds himself dumpster diving for meals.

He’s never felt so alone — until an emaciated little dog and her two tiny pups cross his path. And fate has even more in store for Joe, because an actual tornado is about to hit home — and just when it seems all is lost, his life turns in a direction that he never could have predicted.

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AWARDS AND KUDOS

  • Booklist starred (15 Mar 2024)
    Publishers Weekly starred (19 Feb 2024)

WHAT I LIKED

I have said that Starfish, also by Lisa Fipps, is one of my favorite middle grade books of all time. I’m not going to go that far with my review of And Then, Boom, but this book is still very good. Like Starfish, it’s not the happiest story. As with Starfish, I teared up in a couple of places.

The protagonist, a 6th grade boy named Joe Oak, is an authentic and resourceful protagonist. The lengths he goes to for his day-to-day survival are truly heartbreaking. I loved that even though Joe struggles to feed himself, he never once waffled on adopting three stray dogs (a mama and her two pups) that needed help.

I love how Joe feels alone, but when he thinks on it, he knows really isn’t. He remains mostly positive, even after every “BOOM!” forces him to figure out something else he needs to do to survive.

Kindness is a major theme in this book, and it reminds me a bit of an adult book, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts (1995). In that book, a young pregnant woman, Novalee, is abandoned by her POS boyfriend at a random Wal-Mart in Oklahoma.

Novalee knows no one in this small town, and she has only the clothes on her back. But like Joe Oak, Novalee is a survivor. And like Joe, she survives by her own wits and with the help of several kind strangers.

In both books, the people who help the homeless and hungry protagonists are not wealthy philanthropists. They are regular, everyday people. They are themselves poor, and they all have their own life struggles. But they still extend a helping hand to someone who needs it. Just as Joe does with the three dogs.

That is absolutely beautiful, and it’s what made me tear up while reading.

I also loved Joe’s relationship with his grandmother, as well as his two super-supportive best friends. He has a sweet teacher who does what she can to help. Even the trailer park landlord is such a great character. The social worker, the nurse, the foster family…all are decent people who genuinely care about Joe. There really are no bad people here except the neglectful mother (who is absolutely horrible).

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

What I loved about And Then, Boom! is also kind of what I didn’t like. It’s not realistic that so many people are so wonderful and eager to help someone else. Social workers are overworked and overwhelmed. Foster families are not always nice people. Ditto for landlords, especially trailer park landlords who are used to poor people not paying rent.

It’s great for Joe that he gets so much help from others, but I think there should have been a little more dark side of humanity shown.

Alas, it’s a middle grade book, and it’s still fabulous. For the young audience, the lack of a “dark side” of humanity is appropriate. The story focuses on Joe’s survival, and even if his community is mostly a nice place full of nice people, feeding himself isn’t easy at all.

DIVERSITY

Joe is a sixth grader that cues white. Joe’s grandmother is British. One friend cues South Asian.

ARTWORK/ILLUSTRATIONS

And Then, Boom! is not illustrated, but the cover art is perfect for this story. It’s a metaphor for the weight on Joe’s shoulders. It also represents Joe’s many superhero and comics references, as well as a literal storm later in the story.

LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW

Would adults like this book? YES, I think many adults will love And Then, Boom!

Would I buy this for my high school library? I might, especially where Starfish is popular. The protagonist turns 12 in the story, so it’s probably a bit young for most high school students.

Would I buy this for my middle school library? 100% YES. Zero concerns about mature content. This is a must for middle school libraries.

Would I buy this for my elementary school library? 100% YES. Again, no content concerns. Professional reviewers recommend a range of Grades 4-8, and I agree with that recommendation.

MATURE CONTENT

Language: Joe uses a made-up curse word throughout the story (“SITGEN” which means Spanish, Italian, Turkish, German, English, and Norwegian); no other profanity concerns

Sexuality: none

Violence: none

Drugs/Alcohol: none

Other: Joe’s mother is neglectful and abandons him.

MORE BOOKS LIKE AND THEN, BOOM!

This is a Librarian's Perspective Review of Starfish by Lisa Fipps.  This is a Librarian's Perspective Review of The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden.  This is a Librarian's Perspective Review of Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

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