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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2009
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
on October 11, 2009
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
on March 16, 2011
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.

"The star runner on her team, Gianna Zales, can cross any finish line - no problem. Gianna Z. has always been scatter-brained, and when real-life problems prove to be bigger hurdles she can handle, Gianna must figure out how to cross the finish line by herself - with a little help. How Gianna handles her grandmother forgetting her teeth in the refrigerator and turning off the smoke alarm, her questionable placing in the cross-country sectionals, her feelings for her best friend, Zig, being different, her teacher assigning her a crazy leaf project, is a rolling barrel of laughs and compassion for anyone who reads it.

"I would recommend this book to anyone who loves five-star books filled with laughter, caring, brilliance, fun and a whole bundle of leaves."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2009
"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
on November 19, 2009
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
I got this book for my daughters kindle. Every time I get her a book, I read it myself to make sure it's appropriate. I, a 33 year old woman, really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to other people who have children in grades 5-8. Great story line and you build a relationship with the characters. I love how the leaves are incorporated into the meaning of the story. I am pleased with this book. Kudos to Kate Messner. I will definitely look into getting her other books. And plan on buying the paperback version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2010
Those who've enjoyed Linda Sue Park's novel, Project Mulberry, may like entering the world of Gianna Z too. Both books feature engaging schoolgirl protagonists, and share not only fine writing, and satisfying stories, but many of the same sorts of characterizations and similar elements: strong family focus, science projects requiring leaf gathering, boy-girl friendship (and the boys, Zig and Patrick, are both smart, caring, sensitive nice kids), loving but wrongheaded mothers, younger siblings, and descriptive local settings. Both also include weighty personal issues --of racism, in Park's story, and Alzheimer's in Messner's-- valuable real-life concerns that are handled well without being too wrenching.

Gianna Z is an enthusiastic tree climber, athlete and artist, but not so much a scholar, who lives over her dad's funeral home with her family, including Italian grandmother Nonna who's starting to have trouble remembering things. Besides worrying over the eighty-three year old's mental decline, Gianna has trouble managing homework assignments. Challenges include a huge science project, an important upcoming race she may not be eligible to run if she can't complete her project on time, some nasty classmate saboteurs, and poor communication with her mom. Gianna is an interesting, likeable character who is distractible and messy, but also has integrity, talents, and some good friends she cares about.

Messner deftly fills out the story with background information and a lot of details that contribute to its development and fit together neatly. I especially like her work with personality types Gianna and Zig are learning to appreciate, the examples of kindness she includes, her coverage of grief, and the Robert Frost theme throughout. I like the realistic outcome of Nonna's doctor visit and that Gianna is grateful for the present time with her even though there's no happy solution to her condition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2009
Gold Star Award Winner!

If Gianna Zales doesn't finish her seventh-grade leaf collection project in time, her spot in the cross country sectionals will be filled by her nemesis. Though she had plenty of time to do the project, Gianna left it until the last minute.

It doesn't help her state of mind that her father drives her to school in a hearse, her grandmother keeps forgetting things, and her mother pretends like nothing is wrong.

This fall will be a disaster if Gianna can't pull it together and take her project all the way to the finish line.

The warm-up stretched just the right muscles so I was ready to take on the smooth cross country pacing of the novel. I trotted happily along through Gianna's story and enjoyed the scenery along the way. The emotional hills and valleys gave me a satisfying workout, and the cool down in the end made for a perfect run.

Messner not only reached the finish line with THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., she won the gold and the crowd went wild.

Reviewed by: Joan Stradling
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2010
I have never written an Amazon review before, but I loved this book too much not to.

Gianna Z. is going through some adolescent drama, and handles it beautifully. I was very excited to find such a strong, sensible, but believable role model for my daughter and other girls her age.

This book is honest and wise and fun and relatable. Gianna's struggles and feelings are true to early middle school life. Things aren't easy, but Gianna perseveres, and that is the ultimate lesson of this beautifully written book.

Thank you Kate, for giving girls an imperfect, yet inspiring protagonist. I can't wait for my daughter to read it, and I can't wait to read your other books. I hope she thinks of the example of Gianna as she navigates the messy middle years. I know I will think of her any time I notice a leaf or tree.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2009
This is one of the most charming Middle Grade books I've read in ages. Funny (but not dumb), heartwarming (but not sentimental) - More Gianna, please!
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