Review: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

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A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius
by Stacey Matson

My Rating:

Note: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius will be released in the U.S. on Sunday, November 1st by Sourcebooks.

I’m always looking for engaging and interesting books that are told from a boy’s perspective, because I find that the boys in my classroom love connecting to the main character in that way. A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius was previously released in Canada, and reviews from readers on Goodreads convinced me it might be a good fit for middle grade readers here in the U.S.

Told through letters, journal entries, emails, progress reports, notes from teachers, newspaper articles, and other written mementos of 7th grade, A Year in the Life tells the story of Arthur Bean: a witty, quirky, hilarious and sensitive 7th grade boy. The story begins in October, when Arthur returns to school after a tragic family loss. Arthur immediately sets his sights on a writing prize that will be awarded to someone at his school at the end of the year, and decides to become famous through his writing. The one problem is that he doesn’t have any ideas for what to write about. While he waits for inspiration to strike, we learn about Arthur’s distain for Robby Zack (a classmate) and his crush on Kennedy (the cool girl in school). When Arthur is matched with Kennedy as a writing partner and is forced to tutor Robby, he has to confront his fears and learn how to navigate working with others. Meanwhile, he is also learning how to grieve as he and his father work through their first year without Arthur’s mother.

One thing I loved about this book was the style in which the story was told. Reflecting what may be a trend in YA and middle grade literature, the use of “artifacts” like letters, emails and notes to tell the story was engaging and effective. It gave each character a really unique voice, and it allowed us to see how Arthur’s personality is reflected in his school assignments as compared to his personal journal or his email interactions with others. Humor was very effectively used in this book, and it had me laughing out loud more than once! One particularly funny aspect was Arthur’s tendency to talk about other books and plot lines in an attempt to pass them off as his own – many of the books that are used will be known by middle grade readers, so they will be able to pick up on this humor.

One aspect of the book that I didn’t love quite as much was the voice given to Kennedy, Arthur’s crush and the “cool girl” of the 7th grade. Her part of the story was told through her emails to Arthur about their creative writing project. Her emails were written with an exclamation point at the end of every sentence, capital words written throughout, and LOLOLOL written throughout. While Kennedy’s character is known to be smart and clever, her written voice was very stereotypical for a middle school girl, and it would be nice to see her bubbly personality reflected in a different way. However, Arthur himself fights gender roles through his love of knitting and other interests, which may help some readers feel more included.

Overall, this was a very strong book for middle grade readers that asks big questions about life and loss. I can definitely see this book becoming a favorite of some 6th-8th graders. Fortunately, Arthur’s adventures aren’t over quite yet, as a sequel is coming soon from author Stacey Matson!

Classroom Connections

  • Much of the story is told through Arthur’s responses to classroom assignments given to him by his teacher. Many of these align strongly with what students will be doing in school. In particular, assignments like the interviewing of other people will help students in their own writing. Assignments from the book can be given to the class to strengthen their own creative writing. Students will also be able to compare their experiences with the assignment to the experiences of Arthur, Robby, and Kennedy.

Book Information
Title: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius
Author: Stacey Matson
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Release Date: November 1st, 2015
Price: US $15.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own!


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