Carter Jones has got it tough: it’s the first day of 6th grade (good grief-middle school), one sister is missing a sock, another’s hair isn’t done, they’ve run out of milk, his mom isn’t coping well, it’s pouring outside, and the doorbell rings. What now? It’s a man in a bowler hat, impeccably dressed and sporting a very large black umbrella, and he says he’s come to assist the family. Wha…? Within 15 minutes, the 3 girls are in order, Carter Jones is back packed and ready to go, breakfast and lunch and the over-excited Dachshund have been cleaned up, and they’re out the door and hold on, what’s that?! “That” is a purple Bentley that whisks them off without so much as a bye your leave, the very proper butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, in the driver’s seat.
Carter Jones is floored and suspicious. Could anything be stranger in his little town? Well, no, not really, for when Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick picks them up, they learn he’s been sent by their grandfather as a present, a permanent presence, to their family. And very quickly, life in the Jones household takes on a new kind of order. Since Carter’s father has re-deployed to Afghanistan again, (and isn’t sending his full paycheck home) Mom is struggling to hold things together. Add to that the grief from her son, Currier’s death 3 years ago, and it’s clear that Mr. B-F has arrived in the nick of time.
“Pay Attention, Carter Jones!” That’s the title by Gary Schmidt and the best and most helpful advice Mr. B-F can give to Carter. The little girls fall in love with the new man in the house, Carter walks the dog and learns to drive the Bentley (yes!). Mom starts to face life and emerges from her cocoon and lands a job as the church accountant. Mr. B-F introduces the sport of cricket to the school (every chapter is headed by a cricket regulation) while gradually pushing Carter to face the truth about his father.
Oh yes, this book has a serious side, but it’s handed to the reader gradually and ever so gently. A book for all ages, “Pay Attention, Carter Jones!” Tops my list for best book, beyond just the MG/YA ranking, of the past couple of years. As LIFE said in the commercial: “Try it, you’ll like it.”