Reviews for Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Booklist Reviews 2009 August #1
Cross-country runner and budding artist Gianna Zales must pass science in order to be eligible for the upcoming sectionals. Luckily, her best friend, Zig, has promised help with her leaf-identification project, but Gianna faces other issues too, like mean-girl/track-rival Bianca and, more importantly, her beloved Nonna's increasing forgetfulness and confusion. Eventually, Gianna's challenges and experiences intertwine, each deepening understanding of the others. Laced with humor and heart, Messner's engaging debut features a well-drawn protagonist and diverse secondary characters, from lovable Nonna to younger brother Ian to studious, loyal Zig. Gianna's first-person narrative ranges from lively and droll to introspective, interspersing botanical information, Robert Frost's poetry, and aspects of her family's funeral-home business. While some characters, like Bianca, are slightly stereotyped, ultimately this is an insightful and affecting read, offering a compassionate portrayal of a family member's illness and the discovery of beauty and inspiration in nature and poetry. Appended are Nonna's funeral-cookie recipe, a "What Kind of Tree Are You?" quiz, discussion guide, activities, and further resources. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
For her science project, runner Gianna must collect twenty-five leaves, display them, and correctly identify each one. She's also dealing with her grandmother wandering off due to memory loss and her emerging feelings toward her friend Zig. Written with a sense of humor and tenderness, the story is a pleasurable read. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 August #2
A beloved grandmother is failing. A school project looms--and not completing it has dire consequences (in this case, not being able to participate in an important track meet). Spoiled rich girls torment their classmates, including the narrator, while a nerdy friend who's a boy starts to look a little bit like he has boyfriend potential. None of the elements of this middle-school story is really new, but first-time author (and longtime middle-school teacher) Messner succeeds in creating an engaging saga all the same. If there's a flaw, it's that the narrative is so realistic that it's chock-full of incident and details--and occasionally predictable. But jazzing up the plot with a riddle-loving younger brother, making Gianna's family proprietors of a funeral home and sprinkling in a hearty helping of references to art and poetry keep things interesting. An ending that's hopeful without being saccharine is another big plus. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2009 December

Gr 5-8--Seventh-grader Gianna Zales loves art and cross-country running. She is not so crazy about research projects or anything involving time-management skills, and has somehow gotten to within a week of the due date of a huge science assignment with no work to show. But how hard can it be to find and catalog 25 different varieties of leaves--especially in Vermont, where Robert Frost was inspired to write "Birches" and countless other poems about nature. However, family obligations keep interfering. Her father runs the town's funeral home, but even a close proximity to death can't prepare her for her own grandmother's decline. Suddenly, Nonna is forgetting everything. Also, Coach Napper has told Gianna that she must bring her science grade up to participate in sectionals, and beautiful, arrogant Bianca would love to take her place as the team's star runner. Gianna's mother means well, but is struggling with Nonna's failing health. Youngsters will find much to relate to in this likable protagonist's struggle to balance family and academic commitments. While it is no surprise when it all comes together in the end, plot twists keep readers engaged, and Messner's warm and humorous tone will capture even reluctant readers.--Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

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