The losers at the center of the galaxy

Mary Winn Heider

Book - 2021

Two years after their father disappeared, Winston and Louise wrestle with their grief while investigating mysterious teachers, innovative science, and a captive bear.

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jFICTION/Heider Mary
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Subjects
Genres
Humorous fiction
Published
New York ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company 2021.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
291 pages ; 20 cm
Audience
Ages 8-12.
ISBN
9780759555426
0759555427
Main Author
Mary Winn Heider (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* This tale, which winds up being about learning to live with loss and move on but takes dizzying and comical twists getting there, centers on a pair of sibs still grieving two years after the disappearance of their dad, an ex-quarterback for the Chicago Ursus Arctos Horribles, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. Joining a captive mascot bear in need of rescue (obviously), a young pop star whose songs are all cat-themed, an artist collective masquerading as middle-school faculty—or maybe vice versa—and several other supporting characters who likewise turn out to be both helpful and quirky, eighth-grade tuba player Winston and his science-geek younger sister, Louise, find themselves swept up in a series of misadventures. With the story line highlighted by Winston's developing crush on a fellow tubaist, chemistry projects with unexpected results, and the mysterious demise of the school's two tubas, they come at last to a frolicsome, fantastic halftime show at the local football stadium—"the center of the galaxy," as their father used to call it. Readers will be hard put to judge which is more entertaining—­the plot or the cast—but between the two there's never a dull moment. A buoyant ending leaves Winston, Louise, and the bear (who even gets a POV turn in one chapter) in better places. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* This tale, which winds up being about learning to live with loss and move on but takes dizzying and comical twists getting there, centers on a pair of sibs still grieving two years after the disappearance of their dad, an ex-quarterback for the Chicago Ursus Arctos Horribles, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. Joining a captive mascot bear in need of rescue (obviously), a young pop star whose songs are all cat-themed, an artist collective masquerading as middle-school faculty—or maybe vice versa—and several other supporting characters who likewise turn out to be both helpful and quirky, eighth-grade tuba player Winston and his science-geek younger sister, Louise, find themselves swept up in a series of misadventures. With the story line highlighted by Winston's developing crush on a fellow tubaist, chemistry projects with unexpected results, and the mysterious demise of the school's two tubas, they come at last to a frolicsome, fantastic halftime show at the local football stadium—"the center of the galaxy," as their father used to call it. Readers will be hard put to judge which is more entertaining—­the plot or the cast—but between the two there's never a dull moment. A buoyant ending leaves Winston, Louise, and the bear (who even gets a POV turn in one chapter) in better places. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Two years ago, Lenny Volpe disappeared. The much-hated former quarterback for the Chicago Horribles, whose repeated concussions from playing caused traumatic encephalopathy, also happens to be Winston and Louise's father. Ever since then, Winston, now an eighth grader at Subito School, has resisted "dying from loneliness" thanks to two things: his tuba, and his friend Frenchie LeGume, a fellow tuba player who has vitiligo. Suspecting that their teachers are part of a criminal ring, Frenchie has enlisted Winston to help investigate. Seventh grader Louise, meanwhile, lives for Science Club despite its annoying members; for the past two years, she has been "working on a cure for brain injuries." But Louise now has an additional mission: rescuing the newest attraction at Horribles games, a caged bear that paces on the sidelines and which reminds her of their dad's constant pacing before he left. Hurt by their father's absence as well as their mother's seeming indifference toward them, the Volpe siblings are relatable as they shut each other out; their journey toward reconnecting is well worth the ride. Heider skillfully interweaves seemingly disparate threads into this character-centered, heartfelt story, culminating in a satisfying conclusion. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Dubois, ICM Partners. (Mar.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 3–7—It is well documented that repeated head trauma received in sports such as football can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder that affects many athletes for the rest of their lives. The condition is dramatized in this touching book chronicling the upended lives of Louise and Winston Volpe. Their father, Lenny Volpe, a former quarterback for the fictional football team the Chicago Horribles, had the disease and disappeared from home one day, never to be found. The children are left to their own devices by their hardworking mother, a real estate agent, and grief over the loss of their father and husband remains unspoken among the three of them. Louise dedicates her efforts to finding a cure for CTE with her science club while simultaneously trying to save a captive bear, and Winston (along with his fellow tuba-playing friend, Frenchie) gets caught up in the mysterious behavior of their middle school teachers. The chapters alternate between Louise and Winston, creating two subplots that dovetail at the end of the book. Readers who have family members with chronic illnesses, or who have lost a parent, will relate to the story of this brother-sister duo who work through the grief in the best ways they can. VERDICT This tender, wacky, and often humorous story will be enjoyed by all middle grade readers. Librarians looking for books on unique and timely health topics in fiction should consider this title.—Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State Univ., NH Copyright 2020 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Two years after their father disappeared, Winston and Louise wrestle with their grief while investigating mysterious teachers, innovative science, and a captive bear.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A tuba player without a tuba and his jellyfish-imitating sister cope with their father's disappearance in this hilarious and moving novel by the author of The Mortification of Fovea Munson. When Lenny Volpe, former quarterback of the worst professional football team in the nation, leaves his family and disappears, the Chicago Horribles win their first game in a long time. Fans are thrilled. The world seems to go back to normal. Except for the Volpe kids.Winston throws himself into playing the tuba, and Louise starts secret experiments to find a cure for brain injuries, and they're each fine, just fine, coping in their own way. That is, until the investigation of some eccentric teacher behavior and the discovery of a real live bear paraded as the Horribles' new mascot make it clear that things are very much Not Fine. The siblings may just need each other, after all.