PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES by Gary D. Schmidt

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When Carter tells his mom about the stranger on the doorstep, she panics, wondering if it’s a representative from the army bringing terrible news about Carter’s dad. But when Carter assures her that the guy isn’t in a uniform (or at least not a military uniform, though the tux and bowler hat combo is a bit much) and that also the guy is definitely British (like, really, really British), she returns to the chaos of preparing Carter’s little sisters for school and tells Carter to send the stranger away.

But the stranger has no intention of going away, not even when Carter’s dachshund pukes right in front of his shoes (it’s a dachshund thing). In fact, the stranger is there because of the chaos. Apparently, Carter’s grandfather assigned his butler to move to America and help out during their dad’s deployment–even if “helping out” means cleaning up dachshund puke on Carter’s first day of sixth grade. Unfortunately, cleaning up after dogs isn’t the main part of the butler’s job description. He seems bent on turning Carter into “a gentleman,” educating him in the arts, and even teaching him how to play Cricket, which is apparently “the most gentlemanly” of all sports even though no one has ever heard of it. Carter initially resists the changes the butler brings to his life, but when unexpected news from his father makes him confront some difficult truths about his family’s past, Carter realizes that some changes can’t be stopped–and others might be exactly what he needs.

Snarky, whimsical, and heart-wrenching, PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES is a story of how love and community can bring a family through a tragedy. The humor kept me laughing even as the story took its more serious turns while Schmidt’s poetic storytelling created emotional swells, ultimately lifting the reader up in hope. I highly recommend this novel to upper-elementary and middle school readers who enjoy contemporary fiction.

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