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Mort Ziff Is Not Dead

I get most of my review books on NetGalley, which is so fun since it means seeing AND reading books before they come out. One of the more interesting parts of the process is that when I gain access and send them to my eReader, I rarely remember what they were about. And there aren’t any cover images. It’s just a title.

So seeing MORT ZIFF IS NOT DEAD (Cary Fagan, August 1, 2017, Penguin RandomHouse/Puffin Canada, $15.99, hardcover, 176 pages), I thought is this adult? children’s? comedy? tragedy?

I went in with no expectations whatsoever.

You, however, have the benefit of seeing the cover right here:

The story begins with Norman, the youngest of three boys, who wins $1,000 in a Doozy Dots counting contest. Because this is 1960s Canada, that’s enough money for him to take his whole family to Florida for a vacation. So they pack up and fly down there (can you imagine taking 5 people to Florida and getting your travel and lodgings for $1,000 in 2017?) and stay at a posh hotel owned by a mysterious millionaire.

While they’re staying there, they meet another family who has three daughters. A rivalry strikes up between the two oldest of each family, but Norman and Amy decide to be friends on the sly (traitors!). A sweet friendship ensues. Then they meet Mort Ziff.

Mort Ziff is a comedian who has seen his heyday and doesn’t connect with audiences the same way anymore. “The first time I came into this place I said, ‘Waiter, do you serve crabs here?’ He said, ‘We serve anyone. Sit down.'” He’s dry and endearing, but while Norman and his family are there, the hotel management brings in a Beatles-wanna-be band for dinner entertainment instead, and Mort loses his job.

Secret friends Norman and Amy decide to do something about it… And thus ensues their heartwarming efforts to unite on behalf of Mort (despite the fact that their siblings would be mortified at their unity).

The plotline of the story was cute and playful, a great read for a plane ride. But what sets MORT ZIFF apart are the relational details. Norman is caught between feeling like the unwanted third wheel with his brothers, but though he isn’t ruled by them, he still wants his brothers to like him. Amy is in the same boat with her sisters. More complexity is seen with Norman enjoying some good fortune with his vacation but also seeing Mort Ziff lose his gig as the comedy act at the resort.

There are so many moments of decision for Norman, which middle grade (and adult…) readers can identify with. He can choose to befriend or turn away, to care about someone else or to chalk it up to the way things go. He can stand up to his brothers or carry on a pointless rivalry. Relatable is thrown around too often, but this one hits home. MORT ZIFF is memorable, witty, nuanced, and poignant.

Highly recommended for… all.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the advanced review copy!

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