Published January 10th 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
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Brian can think of a few places he’d rather spend his summer than with his aunt and uncle in Boring, Illinois. Jail, for example. Or an earplug factory. Anything would be better than doing summer school on a computer while his scientist dad is stationed at the South Pole.
Boring lives up to its name until Brian and his cousin Nora have a fight, get lost, and discover a huge, wooden house in the forest. With balconies, turrets, and windows seemingly stuck on at random, it looks ready to fall over in the next stiff breeze. To the madcap, eccentric family that lives inside, it’s not just a home—it’s a castle.
Suddenly, summer gets a lot more exciting. With their new friends, Brian and Nora tangle with giant wasps, sharp-tusked wild boars, and a crazed bureaucrat intent on bringing the dangerously dilapidated old house down with a wrecking ball.
This funny, fantastical story will resonate with any reader who’s ever wished a little adventure would find them.
Author Keir Graff has written a fantastic, whimsical tale that cheerfully reminds readers that adventure can always be found, even in the most boring of places. Brian Brown goes to stay with his aunt and uncle in Boring, Illinois for the summer, thinking that his summer is going to be nothing but summer classes on the computer, and spending time with his sullen cousin Nora.
But a chance encounter with the quirky Van Dash family, and their extraordinary Matchstick Castle, helps bring new adventure to Brian’s life…
It’s not that often that I struggle to find literary comparisons for a book that I’m reading, but that’s exactly how I felt while reading The Matchstick Castle. Because with whimsical characters and a grand, fantastical house that I would personally love to explore, it’s a book that stands in a class of its own.
Graff does a fine job of showing how we often can’t judge a place by our first impression; Brian evolves from the usual sulking that comes with teens being asked to spend time in a place that they don’t enjoy, into an intrepid adventurer when he and his cousin meets the Van Dash family.
But rather than follow the usual trope of having Brian and Nora being the only ones who are changed by their experiences with the Van Dash family, Graff smartly integrates that change into the Van Dash family end as well. Cosmo and his family use Brian and Nora as a bridge into the world of Boring, particularly when a timely and appropriately municipal subplot factors into the story and their relationship.
There are repeated reminders that we are never too old to learn from one another, and no matter what happens, it’s good to live life with the zest and curiosity that are experienced by the Van Dashes.
Graff concludes the book with a nod and wink, leaving the Van Dashes (and Brian and Nora!) better off than how readers originally met them. There are more possibilities open to both the Browns and the Van Dashes now, and I can only hope that we return to this layered, complex world.
About the author:
Keir Graff’s first book for kids, a middle-grade novel called The Other Felix, was judged “Best of the Best” by Chicago Public Library and was compared to The Little Prince by School Library Journal.
Graff is an in-demand speaker at libraries, schools, and conferences. By day he is an executive editor at Booklist.