Sunday, January 3, 2021

REVIEW: Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! (graphic novel) by Stephen McCranie

Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! is a Middle Grade graphic novel featuring humor and time travel. It's the first in the Mal and Chad series.


Mal is an elementary school student who doesn't want anyone to find out that he's secretly a genius, because then he might be forced to go to college. He wouldn't have time to be a kid anymore, and he definitely wouldn't get to see Megan, the girl he likes.

So he lets his mom think he's just off playing when in reality he's trying out his various inventions with Chad, his best friend and pet dog, who he taught how to talk. You'd think a secret genius might have an easy time, but unfortunately he has to deal with Zachary, who makes fun of him and thinks he's smarter than everybody, the possibility that Megan thinks he's a dork, and an essay assignment about what he wants to be when he grows up.

This is another one of my very old ARCs, picked up at a conference I attended years ago. I had to double check that it was the first volume in the series, because it felt like at least the second. It wasn't immediately apparent that Mal and Chad didn't have some kind of Calvin and Hobbes situation going on. The fact that Chad could talk wasn't explained until the end of the volume, and Mal being a secret genius wasn't mentioned until after he created a jet pack that accidentally launched his favorite stuffed animal into the sky, which I initially assumed was all just make-believe on Mal's part.

Mal's inventions were fun but, from an adult perspective, enormously risky, and I kept bracing myself for something bad to happen to him or his dog, even knowing that this was a Middle Grade graphic novel. He had a machine that could shrink him and Chad, but it was only through luck that he was able to reach it again so that he and his dog could change back to normal. Same with the time travel - he'd clearly done a little planning, because he had an additional few helpful inventions on hand, but it could have gone really badly. Maybe I wouldn't have been so braced for something to go wrong if it hadn't been for the jet pack incident and Chad's nervousness about Mal using it without testing it out in some way first.

I wasn't really a fan of the storyline involving Mal's crush on Megan, especially after Megan joined in (due to peer pressure, but still) on teasing Mal. Instead of having to apologize to Mal at some point, Mal just thought for a bit and realized that Megan hadn't actually wanted to tease him. Poof, all was forgiven and Mal's crush continued on.

So, the inventions are fun and Chad is a good dog and nice sidekick for Mal. I wish the "Mal has a crush on Megan" aspect had been cut or written differently, though, and I wasn't really a fan of the art style. All in all, this was okay, but I don't plan on reading more of this series.

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