Matylda, Bright and Tender

Recommended for children ages 9-12, by Holly McGhee, this is a story about a tween named Sussy.  Struggling to hold on to Guy and love their pet gecko enough for the both of them after a devastating accident, Sussy begins stealing from the pet store.

Grades 3-6 A fascination with herpetology might be a prerequisite for enjoying this middle-grade novel told from the viewpoint of spirited 10-year-old Susquehanna Indiana Reed, who loses her closest friend. A visit to the pet store ends with Sussy and Guy adopting a leopard gecko, whom the pair name Matylda  (“With a y so it’s all her own,” insists Guy), and they quickly cook up a fanciful origin story for their pet. Readers will learn a whole lot about the care and feeding of geckos, until a bike accident leads to Guy’s death, and Sussy is left alone with the pet they were supposed to share. We never get a real sense of Guy, loyal paragon that he appears, and Sussy’s intense—­but, by nature, one-sided—attempts to bond with the reptile verge on magical realism. At times, her coping strategies are disturbingly dark, but this tackles grief for the middle-grade set in much the same way as Ali Benjamin’s The Thing about Jellyfish (2015). As a simple preadolescent love story, it’s refreshing. — MacDonald, Sandy (Reviewed 1/1/2017) (Booklist, vol 113, number 9, p94)