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Book Review: Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan

I love the story of Beowulf, the Geatish warrior who saves the Danes from the monster Grendel, and then from Grendel's mother, and who, at the end of his life, saves his own people from a dragon and then gets pushed out to sea on a funeral pyre loaded with treasure. The mead halls! The heroic adventures! The kennings! Plus I've had a long fascination with Scandinavian history. One of my thoughts when I was in the British Museum last summer, in fact, was "I am in the same building as the Nowell Codex!" (The original Beowulf manuscript which was, alas, not on display.)

So Grendel's Guide to Love and War: A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst, by A. E. Kaplan, was a must-read for me. It is a contemporary retelling of Beowulf, with all of the necessary pieces: several monsters (although they are in human boy form), a dead mother, heroic adventures to vanquish the monsters. Alas, no kenning.

But it's also just a fun young adult story, and if you've never read Beowulf it wouldn't matter. It tells the story of Tom Grendel, whose mother passed away years ago, and his father who has PTSD after serving in the wars in the Middle East, and his sister Zip. Tom and his father live in a retirement community, and when his neighbor dies, her house is purchased by her niece. Tom has a long, crushy history with the niece's daughter, Willow, as well as a painfully bully-ish one with the niece's son, Wolf (one of the monster boys). Their mother, recently divorced, is a news reporter and gone for long stretches, so she sets her kids up in their new house and then goes off to report on a story.

And Wolf starts in with the nightly parties.

Loud nightly parties, which set of his dad's PTSD, and so his dad travels for work to get away from the noise. Leaving Tom (and eventually Zip, who comes home from college) to deal with the loud parties, the bullying behavior, the crush, and the old neighbors who are getting increasingly fed up with the loud parties. Shenanigans ensue!

See? A fun story.

Except Tom is also still mourning for his mother, and unsure how to help his father, and wondering if his family will ever feel normal.

So memory, loss, revenge, romance, and a few really loud speakers get thrown into the mix.

This is one of my favorite YA novels I've read this year. Especially the ending—the ending took me totally by surprise. (Not in a twisty, oh-my-gosh-I-can't-believe-that-happened way, but in a sweet way that made the story feel complete.) I loved it so much that I read it in e-book format on my phone​, and if that isn't affection for a book, I don't know what is!

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