Review: The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy by Mary Winn Heider
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Thank you!
Publication: March 16, 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
A tuba player without a tuba and his jellyfish-imitating sister cope with their father’s disappearance in this hilarious and moving novel by the author of The Mortification of Fovea Munson. When Lenny Volpe, former quarterback of the worst professional football team in the nation, leaves his family and disappears, the Chicago Horribles win their first game in a long time. Fans are thrilled. The world seems to go back to normal. Except for the Volpe kids. Winston throws himself into playing the tuba, and Louise starts secret experiments to find a cure for brain injuries, and they’re each fine, just fine, coping in their own way. That is, until the investigation of some eccentric teacher behavior and the discovery of a real live bear paraded as the Horribles’ new mascot make it clear that things are very much Not Fine. The siblings may just need each other, after all.
“Winston and Louise stood together at the fifty-yard line. The center of the galaxy. It was a weird place to put the center of the galaxy to be honest. The ground was squishy, the air smelled like armpit, and the crowd roared. Also, the cheerleaders were on fire.”
The sophomore novel from The Mortification of Fovea Munson author Mary Winn Heider, the The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy is a tremendous contemporary middle grade not to be missed.
”Winston didn’t understand how the worst thing that had ever happened to him only made people want to joke around.”
For siblings Winston and Louise Volpe- and their mother- nothing has been the same since their father, notorious Chicago Horribles quarterback Lenny Volpe, suddenly disappeared. Well, things truly changed for the family since Lenny Volpe first started showing symptoms of sports-related brain injury, but the disappearance has pushed the family to breaking. As the story opens, readers learn that Lenny Volpe has been missing for a few weeks. In an attempt to gain more attention and momentum to prod the city’s search for their father, Louise and Winston attend a Horribles game and prepare to make a plea at a press conference with their mother. Only, as it turns out, the Horribles have actually started to win since their father vanished, fans are cemented in their view that Lenny Volpe is a curse they are much better without, and the owner of the Chicago Horribles is, in fact, a rather horrible human being.
”The only thing that could bring [Lenny] back was a brain that wasn’t totally disintegrating. And apparently, [Louise] was the only person who understood that. So she was going to have to make it happen herself. That was what she was supposed to do.”
Fast forward to two years later: Louise and Winston are middle school students and Lenny Volpe is still missing. Louise and Winston have grown far apart and have taken on separate causes requiring their full attention: for Winston, it is band and playing a tuba named Lonesome with his wonderful tuba-playing friend Frenchie; for Louise, it is hours upon hours of time alone in Science Club and hiding a top-secret experiment that will hopefully cure brain trauma. Now, if you think there may be enough going on with the story, just wait: add in a series of highly suspicious activity involving the Volpe’s teachers; a touring global megastar named Kittentown Dynamo; the new Chicago Horribles live bear mascot; strange issues plaguing head of security for the Chicago Horribles; break-ins; glowing-in-the-dark; missing helmets; and…a spectacular halftime show involving felines. I do not wish to spoil anything further, but I would like to note that everything- and I mean all of the plot trails and seemingly unconnected plot points- come together. Brilliantly. Sometimes in extreme moments of comedy, sometimes in quieter moments, and sometimes in bursts of breathless anticipation. The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy is as much a contemplation about grief, about family, about having and letting in support and about finding the will to carry on, as it is a wildly adventurous, zany, and clever story.
Some of the most impactful and memorable of middle grade reads are able to walk a delicate, seemingly impossible line of humour and sadness: The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy has found that line. Managing to balance delightfully riotous, funny turns and bursting wit with moments of deep sincerity, heartbreak, and revelations that squeeze your breath and heart, Mary Winn Heider has done a marvellous job of storytelling here. If you have read and enjoyed the author’s highly original and humorous The Mortification of Fovea Munson, then do make sure to try The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. Any readers who are searching for something perfectly unusual, perfectly wise and funny, this might be for you. Readers who enjoy the writing of authors such as Susin Nielsen, Kate Messner, Rob Harrell, Dusti Bowling, or Angela Ahn, may especially savour this incredible read.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.