Keats, the manny, Belly, Lulu and the rest of the family are back in a sequel to The Manny Files. This time the family is taking a road trip (sans Uncle Max who needs to work on his painting). Among the highlights of the road trip is a side venture to visit the Manny’s parents, who live on a horse farm. But Keats is confused … shouldn’t the manny be thrilled about visiting his parents, instead of seeming a bit reluctant and nervous?
Like The Manny Files this book can be a bit hard to place in terms of whether it is young adult or children’s. On the one hand, Keats is a fourth grader, which would seem to indicate that the book is aimed at a younger audience. But on the other hand, a lot of the content isn’t particularly suited for younger kids. I’m not referring to the fact that the manny and Uncle Max are both gay and in a relationship. Obviously kids of all ages can relate (or not relate, as the case may be) to that situation. Rather, I’m talking about a lot of the humor. As an adult, I find the book very funny, and I know a lot of teens who would also be amused. But I don’t think many younger children would “get” the jokes. Keats is vaguely similar to the more well-known Junie B. Jones in that he often misunderstands what is going on around him or misinterprets things that he overhears the adults discussing. But unlike in Junie B., where the readers generally understand what it is that Junie B. is confusing, and can join in the “joke”, a lot of the information Keats misunderstands is more sophisticated than that of the average fourth grader. It’s not that Keats is dense or sheltered, it’s just that the average kid isn’t terribly familiar with these concepts or ideas.
This doesn’t make the book bad – it just places it in the young adult category, rather than in the kid’s section of the library. It might have a hard time finding an audience, but once it does, it’s a fun book, filled with sly wit and good characterizations. The relationships between the family members are great. I particularly liked how the author handled the teenaged Lulu. Just as in the first book, she went from whiny to silly to sophisticated to adult-like in the space of only a few pages – just like real teenagers do. Her reactions and actions were based very much on the setting and environment in a way that clearly reflects the author’s intimate acquaintance with high school freshman.