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The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Hardcover – September 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5–8—Seventh-grader Gianna Zales loves art and cross-country running. She is not so crazy about research projects or anything involving time-management skills, and has somehow gotten to within a week of the due date of a huge science assignment with no work to show. But how hard can it be to find and catalog 25 different varieties of leaves—especially in Vermont, where Robert Frost was inspired to write "Birches" and countless other poems about nature. However, family obligations keep interfering. Her father runs the town's funeral home, but even a close proximity to death can't prepare her for her own grandmother's decline. Suddenly, Nonna is forgetting everything. Also, Coach Napper has told Gianna that she must bring her science grade up to participate in sectionals, and beautiful, arrogant Bianca would love to take her place as the team's star runner. Gianna's mother means well, but is struggling with Nonna's failing health. Youngsters will find much to relate to in this likable protagonist's struggle to balance family and academic commitments. While it is no surprise when it all comes together in the end, plot twists keep readers engaged, and Messner's warm and humorous tone will capture even reluctant readers.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z is Kate Messner's first book. She teaches junior high in Plattsburgh, New York, where she lives with her husband and two children.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 710L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080279842X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802798428
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,884,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Messner is the award-winning author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books for young readers. Her first novel, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., won the 2010 E.B. White Read-Aloud Medal for Older Readers, while its follow-up, Sugar and Ice (Walker/Bloomsbury, 2010), was a Junior Library Guild selection. Kate is also the author of the popular Marty McGuire chapter book series and Silver Jaguar Society mysteries with Scholastic. Her pictures books with Chronicle Books include SeaMonster's First Day and Over and Under the Snow, an E.B. White Read Aloud Honor Book and NY Times and ALSC Notable book. Kate is a former middle school English teacher who also wrote REAL REVISION: AUTHORS' STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, a book about the revision process for teachers and writers (Stenhouse, 2011) Kate lives on Lake Champlain with her family, where she enjoys spending time outside biking, hiking, swimming in the summer, skiing and skating in the winter. Of course, she also loves curling up with a good book any day of the year. Follow her on Twitter @KateMessner and learn more at her website:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kaylie on September 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I thought when I started this book that it would be just another boring middle school novel about due dates and boys. But I was pleasantly surprised. I love how Messner uses the symbolism of Gianna's ever-looming leaf project to illustrate all the struggles in Gianna's life--a wandering grandmother, unpleasant personalities, a quirky family, and finding her own unique style at school. Set in Vermont, this novel is also really funny and well-written. I hope Messner writes more!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Hall on October 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Messner does a phenomenal job in making Gee, her friends, school and home life seem real. In many ways, Gee is a typical middle schooler who struggles with her school work, with budding emotions for her male best friend, and with the transformation of her family life due to her grandmother's failing memory. Without giving too much of the story away, Gee's quest to find 25 leaves and assemble them into a display for her science teacher becomes the metaphor for all of the changes and challenges that she is facing.

I loved the tender and fragile relationship between Gee and her grandmother. And as a teacher, I recognized in Gianna so many of my own students who struggle to attend and to conform to the system and structure called school. My only criticism was that Gianna's perspective often times seemed more mature than I would expect from a 12 year old who leaned more towards being a creative free-spirit than the "I've had to grow up too fast" type of kid. Much of Gianna's reactions and dialogue seemed fairly aligned with her character's persona, but at times the narration which was from Gianna's point of view seemed more adult like. However, I don't believe that it takes away from the story and I would recommend the book to children and adults, especially for children who are dealing with a close family member whose health concerns are impacting the lives of other the family members.


Review by Aly
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Lee on March 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a mother who screens everything her 11-year-old daughter reads, I had totally enjoyed "Sugar and Ice", Kate Messner's second book following "The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z." I was not disappointed: "The Brilliant Fall of Giana Z" was original, touching and, very brave. What I really like about both books is how the protagonists in the stories do not have their adventures and solve their problems with only their friends , without no interference from their families. The adults in both books, but more so in "The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z." are not dumbed-down - in fact, it is the adults, and their relationship with the younger characters that highlight the maturity of the protagonists in tackling the younger characters' growing-up concerns. A lot of terrific books written for the middle school genre tend to remove the adult characters from the main story so that the tweens and teens in them get to run around and lead exciting lives as they come of age - or, worse, have the adults requiring rescue by middle-schoolers. I don't believe parents and teachers are as needful as that, and, although very often enjoyable, the reality is that influential adults are very much present in the lives of young people through to independence, in real life, like it or not :-D ... So when I come across a middle-school book when the adults are positive influences who are wanted, loved and needed by those same young people leading exciting lives, I give it five stars, and then some. Happily, said daughter like the book(s) just as much!

"The book, 'The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.' by Kate Messner, author of 'Sugar and Ice', is a fantastic book that I enjoyed very much. Personally, I think that this book deserves a place on everyone's bookshelf.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Linda Austin on November 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"There's more to a story than the part happening right now." Kate Messner manages to pack a lot around the themes of a family dealing with a beloved grandmother's illness and an important school leaf project. Family relationships, grief, bullies, friendship, procrastination, the awkward boy-girl thing, all provide for a thoughtful and intelligent look at a difficult time for a middle school girl. Gianna has a realistic voice - a frustrated tween with moments of understanding and wisdom unfolding. At times, though, the book is so beautifully descriptive that it is difficult to imagine the thoughts coming from a 7th grader..."My eyes skim the tops of fluffy red and yellow trees still holding onto September." Nonetheless it is a delightful and unusually layered story that tackles a number of difficult issues and comes out on top. Educational to boot. Not a happy ending, but a warm and satisfying finish, and you will love dear Nonna. Reminds me of the wonderful and equally layered Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Su on November 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Can you really go wrong with a 2009 middle-grade novel? THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z seems to say that no, you can't. Kate Messner is a shining voice in middle-grade fiction, and her characters will rank right up there with Sharon Creech's for best-friend potential.

Messner effortlessly introduces us to the totally normal yet exceptionally charming Zales family within just a few pages. Characterization leaps off the page: Gianna's mother, father, little brother, and grandmother all sound like they could be your next-door neighbors, the smoothness with which their characters are developed an unfortunately rare accomplishment in fiction. There are hardly any stereotypes, and those that are a bit flat (like Gianna's mean classmates) are completely excusable and perfect in their two-dimensionality.

The story is a beautiful weave of school troubles, family troubles, dealing with memory loss, and exploring new romantic feelings for your close friend. That's a lot to pack into a book, but it never feels overwhelming in THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. Messner proves that it's not about the number of issues you are or aren't allowed to include in a book, but rather the way the author integrates the problems. And she does it beautifully.

It may be a little early to say this for sure, but Kate Messner just might become one of my favorite middle-grade authors. Her prose is effortless and her characters rich, and readers of all ages will be able to fall in love with the characters and find a bit of themselves in the book. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z transcends its genre boundaries and becomes a classic tale of growing up that will reach anyone's heart.
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