Monday, January 30, 2012

Review- The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

The Fourth Stall
by Chris Rylander
Walden Pond Press
Available Now

Chris Rylander delivers a funny Ferris Bueler-style middle grade novel with The Fourth Stall

Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It's what he does—he and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming. 

Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in need of protection. And before this ordeal is over, it's going to involve a legendary high school crime boss named Staples, an intramural gambling ring, a graffiti ninja, the nine most dangerous bullies in school, and the first Chicago Cubs World Series game in almost seventy years. And that's just the beginning. Mac and Vince soon realize that the trouble with solving everyone else's problems is that there's no one left to solve yours.

Chris Rylander knows how to write funny.  I think humor is probably one of the hardest things to write, maybe because I'm not all that funny, but Chris Rylander must be, because I was laughing all the way through The Fourth Stall, even when I was trying not to.  Even my very hard to please kids (12 and 15) laughed at the lines I read out loud to them. And when I told them how Mac and Vince got their "office" in the bathroom in the fourth stall under the high window (I know it's a mouth full, but in a bathroom, isn't next to the window important?), they snickered a little.  It had to do with a bottle of superglue, a toilet seat and the principal's extremely regular visits to that particular stall, but it's not exactly what you might think. There was a whole lot of glue involved and Mac and Vince had nothing to do with it.  Anyway, you know I enjoy my middle grade fiction, but this one, was better than most of the YA I've been reading!

I was so tired of reading about angels and saw that The Fourth Stall II (the boys and I got a kick out of why they didn't call it number two, I do live with all boys,  even the dogs I have to laugh at bathroom humor), was coming out in just a few days and I hadn't read it yet. So I figured I'd better read the first one. I could hardly put it down last night. I even picked it up before my morning coffee so I could finish the last few pages of it, it's that good.  

As you can probably tell from the front of the book, Mac named for MacGuyver because he gets things done and Vince run a business somewhat like the Godfather. My husband noticed the resemblance. He doesn't read much and tunes out on book discussions.  But if it's the Godfather he perks up. "Hey, that looks kind of like the Godfather," he says after I've been reading all day.  "Yes, honey, because these two sixth graders have a business kind of like that, they get things done for kids and if the kids can't pay, they owe favors."  "Wow that's a great idea for a kids book."  "Yes, that's probably what the author thought when he wrote it."  "So what happens?"  "I don't know. As you can see, I'm still reading." "Oh, I'll let you finish. Tell me tomorrow.  Anybody named Sonny?" "No!"  So , yes Mac and Vince run a business during morning and afternoon recess and lunch in this very far away bathroom that no one uses. Mac has a desk and people come to him with their problems and he solves them. Vince keeps the books.  And they have muscle at the door, Joe the biggest kid in the school who only lets one person in at a time and keeps the crowd low so it doesn't look suspicious .  Mac and Vince are the biggest Cubs fans in history and they are saving to go to a World Series game. And this year looks like it could be their year. This was another fact my husband was interested in because he told me the Cubs were the worst team"in the history of the free world."  When he tacks that phrase on, I know they must be pretty bad.  Anyway, I figured, this is fiction so why couldn't the Cubs go to the World Series.  I was keeping an open mind about the whole thing as I'm sure Cubs fans do every year!

Things are running smoothly until their worst problem in years comes in, a pint sized third grader who has been placing bets with the fabled Staples.  Until that day, no one even knew that Staples was even real, he was just a rumor.  Staples is sending The Collector after the third grader, Fred, and he's afraid of what The Collector might do to him. As Mac and Vince make plans to take down Staples who has infiltrated their school and therefore their business, they find they have a spy in their midst, a thief, they have to meet and work with the schools nine biggest bullies (reading about Kitten alone is worth the price of the books) and their World Series funds begin to dwindle.   What ensues is a systematic take down of Mac and Vince's business and friendship and a backfiring and double cross of all the plans Mac makes to take Staples down.     And as is always the case, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry and Mac has to step back and get his priorities straight before he loses everything. 

The ending couldn't be more perfect and I wish I could tell you about it.  But I don't want to spoil it. It is absolutely fabulous and not something I would have imagined in a million years but can picture with such clarity and I'm still laughing!  The mental image is hilarious except for Kitten, I might have nightmares of him.  There is a set up for the next book, kind of like the old detective movies something along a sixth graders version of, "I knew the dame was trouble the moment she walked in."  And I'm getting ready to dive into The Fourth Stall (number two) Part II.  (Barnes and Noble will never accept this review with that in there.   I'll have to write a whole different review, but maybe that's for the best.)  But it's my blog, and I can write my review, here, how I want it!

As I wrote in the beginning, the book is peppered with humor from Vince's crazy Grandma's sayings to the boys trying to trip each other up on Cubs trivia.  Rylander's writing style is easy for any middle grader to read, though some of the subtle meanings may be harder for younger (8-9) readers to pick up on. It just depends on the reader.  None of the situations are inappropriate for anyone in the MG age group.  I loved the friendship that Mac and Vince had.  They had been best friends since Kindergarten or even before, when Mac moved in to the trailer park where Vince lived.  Vince is quirky, but Mac gets him and loves him, really, they love each other.  They don't say it, but you know they do and they aren't afraid even to cry in front of each other.  That's a true testament to a boy's friendship with another boy.  And I loved that Rylander showed that even in 6th grade, it was okay to cry, because when you get the snot beat out of you, you might feel like crying.  And during an emotional time, like when your Dad dies, you might also feel like crying, and your best bud says, hey it's okay and he doesn't think any less of you.  That's what I hope kids will take away from this book when they read it.  Kudos to Chris Rylander for and outstanding novel!!

Enjoy the rest of the day!


  1. I agree with you on humor, I think it's extremely hard to do well. It's so easy to go over the top with it and then it looks like your just trying to hard to be funny. Love when you find an author that can do it well!

  2. Me too Jenny. This is one of those books you don't want to take to the Dr.'s office because people will stare at you when you laugh.


  3. I can't wait to read both of the books in this series. They sound like great fun and I need a book like that soon!
    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  4. I am so happy you loved it! I thought you might :)

    "(the boys and I got a kick out of why they didn't call it number two"

    LOL! And you say you aren't funny. You had me laughing out loud throughout this whole review!

    "(reading about Kitten alone is worth the price of the books)"

    My gosh, Heather, our brains must have crossed paths because I wrote almost the exact same thing in my review of the second book! You'll see on Tuesday when it goes up. I swear I wrote it before reading your review :P


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