“The Great Brain” is the first in a series of seven books set in Utah, just before the year 1900. This was also one of my favorite books when I was in school, so it was awesome that I got to read it again for a review on this blog. The narrator, John, shares stories about his older brother Tom, who claims to be the smartest kid in town. Even though I’d imagine that these stories probably have some fiction in them, Mr. Fitzgerald presents them as his true-to-life memoirs.
I love reading about different historical eras, and I’d imagine that story-telling was a popular pastime in the days before radio and television. Young John begins the book with a story about how his family was the first in town to have an indoor flushing toilet installed in their home. The neighbors came from miles around to see this wonder, and Tom’s great brain came up with the idea of charging admission. Despite John’s worst fears, the toilet didn’t explode! The house didn’t stink or flood over, either.
Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t shy away from some of the hard realities of life on the frontier, which often included religious conflicts between Mormons and other faiths. Alcohol abuse, missing children, a suicide attempt, and other mature subjects are also part of John and Tom’s daily lives. On re-reading this book, it occurred to me that it almost might be more appropriate for young adults rather than middle-grade readers. Still, Mr. Fitzgerald presents these issues very matter-of-factly, and I think his intent was to show his readers the obstacles that a normal ten-year-old boy like John would have faced.
“The Great Brain” is one of the few books that I’d say all boys absolutely must read, but it’s appropriate for readers of any age who enjoy adventure stories and problem solving!