Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 10 to 14
- Grade: 5 to 9
Who is Gretchen Oyster? The discovery of a series of mysterious handmade postcards distracts Hartley from trouble at home. A poignant novel for fans of Rebecca Stead and Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Hartley Staples, near-graduate of middle school, is grappling with the fact that his older brother has run away from home, when he finds a handmade postcard that fascinates him. And soon he spots another. Despite his losing interest in pretty much everything since Jackson ran away, Hartley finds himself searching for cards in his small town at every opportunity, ignoring other responsibilities, namely choosing a topic for his final project. Who is G.O. and why are they scattering cards about the town?
About the author
Cary Fagan is the author of eight previous novels and five books of short stories, including The Student, Great Adventures for the Faint of Heart, and A Bird's Eye. He has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Writers' Trust Fiction Award, the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, and has won the Toronto Book Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. He is also an acclaimed writer of books for children, having won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the IODE Jean Throop Book Award, a Mr. Christie Silver Medal, the Joan Betty Stuchner—Oy Vey!—Funniest Children's Book Award, and the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. Fagan's work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Korean and Persian. He still lives in his hometown of Toronto.
- Nominated, National Chapter IODE Violet Downey Award
- Short-listed, National Chapter IODE Violet Downey Award
- Nominated, Diamond Willow Award
- Nominated, Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel
Excerpt: The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster (by (author) Cary Fagan)
My teacher Ms. Gorham once said that a story should have an exciting opening. Like this—
We stood and watched as the entire laboratory went up in flames.
If there was one thing I couldn’t do, it was sit idly by while a bunch of giant insects tried to eat their way across the planet.
Unfortunately, this is not that kind of opening.
I went to the library.
I went because it was Saturday and nobody was paying me the slightest attention. Not my mother or my father or my older sister or even my little brother for that matter. And certainly not my older brother, Jackson.
That last sentence was sort of a trick. Because Jackson had run away from home. Nine months ago now. I had thought about not revealing this fact for a while, sort of keeping it up my sleeve to reveal in a more dramatic way—tada!—but I hate when stories do that. Nope, my brother ran away and we didn’t have the slightest idea where he was.
This should tell you a lot about why everyone was paying me no attention.
Now, back to the library.
Oh, wait. Before I tell you what happened in the library, I better introduce myself.
A lot of stories have a main character with a really memorable name. Like Scout. Or Katniss Everdeen. Or Matilda Wormwood. Me, not so much. I’m Hartley. Hartley Joshua Staples. And no, my family doesn’t own the chain of Staples office supply stores. We aren’t rich. We’re middle-class. Or as my dad likes to say, we’re solidly middle-class. I’m not sure why he thinks that sounds better.
You probably expect me to tell you all kinds of stuff about myself: what kind of music I stream, or problems I’m having at school, or maybe that I like some girl with long hair who sits in front of me in math class.
Can we be mature, people?
Now back to the library.
The Whirton Public Library is the size of a mobile home. That’s because it was a mobile home, once upon a time. The original library was in the basement of the town hall, but then the basement got flooded in what I like to call the Great Downpour of 2017, and all the books got ruined, and the town decided that maybe the basement wasn’t the best place for it.
The problem was that the town had no money to build a proper library out of actual bricks. This is where George Smythe comes in.
You might think that, at this advanced stage of human evolution, we would have done away with the town eccentric. Not so. In fact, our town has more than its share. George Smythe is a retired mail carrier turned inventor. He believed that it was possible for anybody to build a rocket ship that was better and cheaper than anything the Americans, Russians, or Chinese could make. So George sold off everything he owned, including his house, in order to buy parts for his rocket ship. He moved into an old mobile home on a vacant lot.
One of the New York Public Library's Best Books for Kids 2019
One of Quill And Quire’s 2019 Books of the Year for Young People
One of the Globe and Mail’s 100 Books that Shaped 2019
Honorable mention for the Ontario Library Association’s 2019 Top Ten Titles
PRAISE FOR The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster:
“[A] funny, beautifully illustrated coming-of-age novel that will leave young readers thinking about where art begins and what it can do to change lives.” --CM Magazine
"A charmingly eccentric tale of briefly intersecting lives making meaning from art." --Kirkus Reviews
“Filled with beautiful art and poignant prose, Cary Fagan’s latest middle grade novel is funny and touching in equal measure.” --BookPage
“The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster is a delightfully quirky novel about facing our personal darkness.” --Resource Links
“Fagan . . . tells a moving story about the happiness found in small moments and art’s power to connect people.” --Publishers Weekly