Sunday, April 9, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

One hundred year ago, 11 year old Obe Devlin's great grandfather drank his 170 acres of land away, leaving his wife and children with only one small house to live in. There is also a small creek running by the house, the Devlin Creek. But now the Devlins are surrounded by three housing developments on what used to be their land before it was used to by booze.

Obe has made it his business to keep the creek free of garbage that people are always tossing into it. And he has lots of time to do that, now that his former best friend Tommy has turned on him and started hanging out with the cool kids who sit in the back of the school bus, making fun of Obe and his bus friend Annie Bell, nicknamed Putrid Annie by the back seat boys. Tommy had also sucker punched Obe in a fight over hanging-out-territory and now Obe suffers from constant nosebleeds.

One day, while he is out picking up trash, Obe comes across an animal unlike any he has ever seen before - not quite dog, not quite pig, with part hoof, part toed , and skin like algae, but strangest of all, it is an animal who eats plastic. The two soon bond and Obe names the animal Marvin Gardens. Could Marvin be the answer to the problems of so much plastic flooding the environment? 

Maybe not, though the two develop a warm and cozy relationship, the first thing Obe notices is that Marvin Gardens scat (poop) has a terrible odor and is often the bright colors of the plastic he eats. Obe keeps Marvin’s existence to himself, afraid of what might happen to him if people find out, especially Tommy and his new friends.

Then, when Marvin begins pooping where yet another new housing development is being built, the developers want to get to the bottom of what it is, and Obe realizes something isn’t right about the scat. It appears to be toxic, eating through and ruining the ground around it, as well as melting sneakers, if stepped in, and deck floors, if walked on in scat covered sneakers.

When Obe finds Marvin Gardens has been wounded by a paintball, he knows it is time to get help, and he knows just the person he can safely turn to.

Me and Marvin Gardens is told entirely from Obe’s point of view. He is a sweet, genial, 11 year old, concerned more with the environment than his is with his math homework. He’s having a hard time reconciling himself to the three housing developments that surround his house, built on fields he used to play on with his then best friend Tommy. He’s loyal friend to both Annie and Marvin, cares keeping about the environment, and has never even squealed on Tommy about the nosebleeds, even after Tommy accuses him melting sneakers and decks. 

Besides the environment, King has managed to get themes of community, friendship, bullying, responsibility, and the inevitability of change in this charming coming of age novel without sounding preachy or didactic or boring. But King also doesn’t give the reader any easy answers about these things. Yes, she looks at how constant development and toxic waste are encroaching on the natural world, but she leaves it up to the reader to think about what they can do about it. 

A word about the game Monopoly. Monopoly plays a real part in Me and Marvin Gardens. Each chapter begins with an illustration of one of the (original) playings pieces - shoe, hat, dog, etc. It is a game about real estate, about buying properties and developing them with houses and hotels, about some players going bankrupt when they land on a developed property and the high rent that can't be paid while others become fat cats collecting those high rents - the more developed the property is, the higher the rent.

Obe’s father is addicted to Monopoly and loves to play monopoly a few times a week with Obe and his older sister Bernadette. Dad is a ruthlessly ambitious player, buying, building and bankrupting Obe and Bernadette each time they play. Obe, on the other hand, prefers to hoard what properties he does buy, keeping them just as they are and never building on them. What is left of Devlin property is Obe’s personal “Monopoly” property, Real life is played out on the game board and the game board plays out real life. Obe's naming a plastic eating animal Marvin Gardens, which is the least expensive Monopoly property seems only natural.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I really liked the realistic parts of this, but wasn't as thrilled about Marvin and his toxic poo. I may have to buy it just for the farm land being taken over!

  2. Sounds like a great story that has a lot of the great themes of middle grade, friendship, etc with the environmental issues that are timely now.

  3. Such a unique story line. I've added it to my stack of books to read and hope to reach Marvin Gardens by the summer. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. I'm reviewing this next week! Glad to see more love for this unusual book.

  5. This novel sounds engaging and the characters realistic. I love the environmental and bullying themes. There is a lot going on in this story. Thanks for the great review!

  6. I think I've seen this at my library. It reminds me of HOOT. I think I'd like it and so would my son. I really like the Monopoly tie in. Very fitting.

  7. I've heard of this! Thanks for giving me the push to request it from my library. I enjoyed your detailed review.
    - Vi


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