AKA Genius

Author: Marilee Haynes
Publisher: Pauline Books
Age Range: 10 – 16

I love books that weave Catholic faith in and out of the story while not necessarily making it the main focus of the story. AKA genius is like that. Gabe is growing up in a normal family, attending a normal Catholic school, and coming to terms with the fact that he is a genius. Well maybe he isn’t as ‘normal’ as everyone else, but what is ‘normal’ anyway?

This book traces Gabe’s journey as he travels through an angst-ridden period of his life. He’s twelve. Life’s complex. He’s getting to know himself. As readers we revel in his successes and we cringe through his … um… ‘not so successful times’. And that’s the strength of this book – as you turn the pages you will get to know Gabe more, just like he’s getting to know himself. What’s more you’ll start to care about him, and that’s the sign of a well written, well developed character.

Young teen readers will enjoy the story and relate to Gabe’s struggles and triumphs. The relationships in the story are particularly well crafted – they are not two dimensional; they develop and mature just as Gabe does. People in this book aren’t perfect, which makes it easy to identify with them.

Catholic themes are subtle – his mother mentions she ‘met someone at church this morning’, and Gabe wonders:

“Is there a patron saint of talking to girls? Hmm… might be worth researching. For now, I just send a quick one up to Saint Jude.’

Teens (and some adults) will absolutely love the fart humour at Midnight Mass. And to balance the irreverence of the Midnight Mass mishap, there’s a moving section with his teacher, Sister Stevie, who prays for him and supports Gabe though hard times. This book will appeal to young teens who do not want to be preached to but will identify how Gabe’s Catholic faith is an important and real part of his life.

I like this book because it’s easy to read and fun. All the same, it is not silly like some adolescent literature. There is depth and meaning to the story as it unfolds throughout. There are interesting themes that teachers and homeschoolers can explore e.g.: tolerance, diversity and ‘normality’, moral conscience.

Marilee Haynes

A sequel has recently been released which is evidence of the quality of this book. If you have young teens in your life, then give this book to them. It’s entertaining AND provides opportunity to explore many divergent themes.  Marilee Haynes is a middle grade teacher; you can visit her on her Facebook page HERE.

AKA Genius and the sequel Genius Under Construction are available on Amazon HERE

Teacher and Homeschool Resources:

Main themes:

 I would begin by asking students to list out the main themes of the book. This will encourage students to think about the ‘overview’ of the novel. It will also help students differentiate between ‘what happens in the novel’ with ‘themes of the novel’.

 Possible Themes are: resilience, identity formation, courage, grief, family, relationships, faith, growing up…

 You could delve into a study of the characters in a number of ways. Here are some suggestions:
 Describe what sort of person Gabe (Maya, Ty, any other character) is. Do you relate to Gabe (other character)? Why/why not?
 How does this character change throughout the novel?
 Pretend you are one of the characters and write a journal entry reflecting on how you feel. (You might want to choose which event your students write the journal entry about e.g.: the thanksgiving dinner, The G.A.S. team, the competition at the end, the fight with his peers at school, his Grandfather’s death…)
 Write a scene where the G.A.S. team is suddenly trapped in their classroom and water is flooding in – they need to come up with a plan. How does each character react? What do they do?
 Finally, ask students to answer this question: “Are the characters in this book believable? Do you care about what happens to them? Why/Why not?

 Faith/Religion.

For written responses or class discussion:

 Does your school/parish have a patron saint? Who is it and what do you know about them?
 What do you know about Saint Jude – do a Google search and find out what you can about Saint Jude.
 Why did the author choose Saint Jude?
 Does Gabe have strong Catholic Faith? What events in the book make you think so?
 On page 90 Gabe recalls that Grandpa told him that his genius brain is a gift from God. Do you have any gifts/talents and abilities? How does God want you to use your gifts?
 On pages 166 – 171 Gabe and Maya make up. Gabe says he’s sorry and so does Maya. Do you think that Gabe did the wrong thing when he got into the fight with Maya? Why is Gabe sorry? Discuss the ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘conscience’.

Creating/Responding:

Following on from a discussion of conscience and ‘right and wrong’, you might ask students to develop their own “examination of conscience”. Students could work individually or in groups and create a poster, power point, or digital image. Here are some simple examples:

From twinkle.co.nz

From Gracewatch.com.

Depending on the maturity and age level of your class, you can provide resources to assist in this activity. This is a link to the Catholic Catechism and the subject of conscience (which is conceptually quite advanced): http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a6.htm

  • Teachers pay teachers has several resources costing a few dollars:
    https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Search:examination%20of%20conscience
  • Students who are scientifically minded might enjoy replicating the competition in the book: Science is everywhere – create a presentation that demonstrates that science is somewhere unexpected.

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