I’m very excited to bring to you a contemporary middle grade fantasy combing Norse mythology with magical puppy mayhem. It’s coming from Greg van Eekhout’s, whose book Voyage of the Dogs was one my whole family enjoyed listening to together.
Fenris and Mott
by Greg van Eekhout
Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Mott (short for Martha) has been having a tough time since she and her mom moved from the east coast to California. She’s no longer able to do video root beer reviews with her best friend, and they had to move into an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs, after her mother had promised her a puppy with the move. So when she finds an adorable puppy in an alley recycling bin, she promises to keep it safe. This rapidly gets much more difficult than she anticipated.
First, she finds out that the puppy is a wolf, not suitable for home life or even the local animal shelter. Secondly, as the puppy and therefore she are tracked by people wearing furs with big weapons, she learns that the adorable floof ball is Fenris, son of Loki, prophesied to kick off Ragnarok. Meanwhile, Fenris proves that he can eat astonishing things when provoked – like people and cars. Luckily, among the ancient Norse people that have suddenly shown up in California is Thrudi, a Valkyrie around her own age, the two of them teaming up for fun and cross-cultural translations. Because Mott made a promise to Fenris, and she’s determined to find a way to save the world and him.
At the very beginning of the book, Mott’s problems are pretty typical for her age – her mother’s job instability, a father who’s constantly breaking his promises to her, and a friendship that’s under strain from separation and economic disparity. They’re heavy problems, to be sure, but the tone is kept light by the frequent root beer references and Fenris’s adorable yet over-the-top antics.
Things get into deeper territory, though, as Mott realizes that the signs that foretell Ragnarok are all around her- things like men forgetting the bonds of kinship, rising sea levels (climate change or the Midgard serpent?) and raging fires (again, flame-wielding Surtur or climate change?), as well as different-colored roosters crowing. Mott has had so many promises ignored that’s determined to keep her word, whatever it takes, a very tricky ethical dilemma. It’s fast-moving, funny, and thoughtful, and comes in at just under 200 pages, great for younger or struggling readers. My own daughter, whose ADHD leads her to prefer graphic novels and audiobooks, sat down and read the whole thing in one day, a high compliment.
Greg van Eekhout is the author of several novels for young readers, including Weird Kid (“A heartfelt, pitch-perfect middle grade novel”—Publishers Weekly, starred review); Cog; and Voyage of the Dogs. He lives in San Diego, California, with his astronomy/physics professor wife and two dogs. He’s worked as an educational software developer, ice-cream scooper, part-time college instructor, and telemarketer. Being a writer is the only job he’s ever actually liked. You can find more about Greg at his website: www.writingandsnacks.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @gregvaneekhout
I’m now on the hunt for more fast-paced middle grade with adorable animals for my daughter (age 12.) I’ve just checked out How to Catch an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin, Elvis and the World as it Stands by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough, and Pie by Sarah Weeks. That last one she listened to the audiobook on repeat one summer when she was small, but it’s been long enough that I’m hoping it will feel fresh again. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!