After reading a review of How to Outrun a Crocodile When your Shoes Are Untied that stated the novel was a “fun-filled, pitch-perfect book about one of the most fraught stages of life” (Kirkus Reviews), I decided to give it a try. I love true-to-life stories when they are done right, and I was hoping to add it to my long list of middle-grade reads that I can freely recommend. While it didn’t make it to my very exclusive “favourites” list – when you read as much as I do, the favourites can pile up if you aren’t exacting with your criteria – I really enjoyed it and think it will almost certainly find an audience of readers who are clamouring for more.
Ana Wright, named after the anaconda (much to her shame), is having a difficult twelfth year. Her best – and perhaps only – friend, has just moved away to New Zealand, and Ana doesn’t like the idea of making new friends. Not only that, but she doesn’t know how to go about it! To top it off, she keeps getting picked on by some girls at school (a group she nicknamed the Sneerers), and she just found out she is going to have to live in the zoo where her parents work. Ana wishes she could just fade into the background, but circumstances keep making it so that she is the centre of attention. Can she find a way to get comfortable in her own skin? Or is she doomed to have a mortifying middle grade?
How to Outrun a Crocodile When your Shoes Are Untied is a great example of realistic juvenile fiction. Ana has a wonderful sense of humour, as evidenced in the “Creature File” blurbs she writes about her classmates, but she gets uncomfortable when too much attention is on her; that discomfort only makes things worse, and she ends up in some pretty embarrassing situations. Over the course of the book, Ana has to make new friends, get comfortable with public speaking, and figure out how to handle some not-so-nice peers. It’s a fun read, with some surprises and great details about animals and middle grade politics. I found Ana’s embarrassment really compelling. In one scene, her parents visit her school to talk about what they do for a living; Ana sits in class, sinking deeper into her chair, convinced that everyone is laughing at her parents. She can’t figure out why they don’t see that the students are making fun of them. Ana’s humiliation in palpable, but as a reader, you kind of wonder if maybe it’s all in Ana’s head, a detail I found wonderfully realistic. Ana is crippled by her fear of being laughed at, and it makes her see everything from a skewed perspective.
This was a breeze to read and a lot of fun. While Ana is the main character, her twin brother Daz is also an important part of the book and a nice counterpoint to the very sensitive lead. The second book about Ana and her family will be arriving in the near future, so if you like How to Outrun a Crocodile, know there will be more adventures coming soon.