Thursday, August 31, 2023

Mini Middle Grade Review: Clara Poole and the Long Way Round by Taylor Tyng


Clara Poole and the Long Way Round by Taylor Tyng
Pixel + Ink
Publication Date: July 4th, 2023
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About Clara Poole:

"When an unintended flight over Michigan in her class science project—a lawn chair held aloft by balloons—brings her instant celebrity, Clara Poole is invited to be the spokesperson for a round-the-world hot air balloon race. But when her overprotective father, still mourning the death of his wife, refuses, in a moment of brash defiance, Clara forges his signature and runs away to Paris to take her place in the skies. If only she’d read the fine print first.

Partnered with a veteran aeronaut who wants nothing to do with her, Clara faces down ten treacherous stages in a race around the world—capturing flags in the perilous mountains of Tibet; being a guest of honor at a maybe-wedding in the Saharan desert; flying through rings of fire in Hong Kong—all while learning the ropes alongside a colorful cast of international competitors.

But there are more dangers than those planned as part of the contest. Someone is trying to sabotage the competition. And surviving this race means Clara must come to terms with the tragedy that set her rashly escaping to the skies in the first place, and accepting that forgiving herself isn’t a process she has to undertake alone.

Gorgeous prose and winning characters combine in this quirky, often-hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking, and thoroughly captivating middle grade adventure series starter from an incredible new talent.

Clara Poole and the Long Way Round is a highly imaginative and adventurous story of a young girl named Clara who somehow stumbles her way into competing in a race around the world–in hot air balloons. 

The story begins with Clara participating in her school science fair by sitting on a lawn chair with balloons attached to it, and before she knows it she has taken flight in her lawn chair across town. This brings her instant fame and she is soon  asked to be the spokesperson for a professional hot air balloon race, and before she knows it she finds herself competing in this whacky, dangerous, and exhilarating race. The blurb for this book compared it to the Amazing Race TV show, and I think that's actually a really great comparison for this book. During the race, teams compete against one another in each leg to overcome various obstacles in order to come in first each leg, and team with the most amount of points (awarded according to placement at the end of each round) is the winner. 

This whole book is ridiculously fun! A hot air balloon race around the world is not something I ever realized I wanted to read about, but it definitely is and I'm so glad I have a chance to read it. I adored Clara and found her journey to be a really compelling and important one. Her and her father are still dealing with their grief from losing their mother/wife, and I think the author handled this particular aspect expertly. There are so many factors at play that affected her father's overprotectiveness, Clara's desire to join the race in order to avoid moving and face her real life, and so much more, and I really loved how these were woven into the plot in a way that felt natural and didn't make the story feel too heavy at any particular time. 

There are also so many supporting characters that immense amounts of color, life, and humor to the story. This book honestly surprised me at almost every page, and I truly had no idea what each leg of the race would bring us readers next. There is never a dull moment and it was so much fun exploring all aspects of this hot air balloon race. There are also some delightful monkey companions that really won me over throughout the course of the story. The pacing is quick and consistent and made for a riveting read that left me entertained the entire time. 

I don't have many complains about this book. The only thing that I think bothered me sometimes was when certain unrealistic aspects would go a bit too far and things just felt downright chaotic and head-scratching. This is not a critique of things being unrealistic because I think we all know that this is not necessarily meant to reflect real life at all points (because where's the fun in that?)–although people do race hot air balloons, which is so cool– but just very specific instances where things felt almost outlandish in nature. 

Overall, this is an incredibly exciting middle grade novel that has me excited to see what Taylor Tyng will be writing next. I think this is the perfect book for young readers to sink into and imagine themselves going on this adventure with Clara, and I think older readers and adults will enjoy many aspects of this unique adventure as well. I've given Clara Poole and the Long Way Round four stars!

*I received a copy of Clara Poole and the Long Way Round courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

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