Grendel's Guide to Love and War

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 18 Apr 2017

Member Reviews

I thought that I would like this book but I wasn't able to get into this book at this time. Sadly this book did not finish the book.
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Absolutely loved this title.  I loved the subtley of the  interwoven Beowulf, the snark and heart of the characters, and the wonderfully ridiculous pranks played.  This is an easy sell to teens.
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A YA novel inspired by Beowulf and Grendel, sign me up! Grendel's neighbors like to throw loud parties to annoy Grendel's dad who suffers from PTSD. His dad has enough and moves to Florida. Grendel decides to enact revenge. That synopsis is too simplistic to describe the nuances in this novel and does not do justice to Kaplan's writing which will have the reader laughing aloud.
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This started out really strong, It was really funny and the narration is great. Unfortunately I just kind of lost interest half way through, probably about the time Tom and Willow started doing...whatever they were doing. I didn't really like Willow all that much and just wasn't sold on their relationship.
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I’m not sure how to describe “Grendel’s Guide to Love and War.”  It isn’t as deep as it could be, considering Tom Grendel has a very difficult life, including a father suffering from severe PTSD.  Yet it does evoke quite a few emotions by just skimming the surface of the issues he’s dealing with.  It is also hilarious. Laugh out loud hilarious.  If you’re looking for a fast read with a bit of an emotional roller coaster, give it a try.
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I'm pretty persnickety about my re-tellings.  I like them to be unique enough where they stand out on their own right but loyal enough to the source material where you can recognize the homage..  This book, does exactly that and it does it in an extraordinary way.  Tom Grendel has become one of my favorite literary characters and I absolutely love what A.E. Kaplan did here.  Additionally, it kind of bugs me that it was compared to "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" because I actually think this is so much better (shhh, don't tell anyone I said that!).  I think the characters are more interesting and better developed, I think this book accomplishes something without trying too hard, and I loved its ties to Beowulf.  There are clear parallels but also enough original material to make this an interesting and worthwhile read.  Definitely a novel to share not just with teen readers but any reader looking for a compelling, interesting, unique, and kinda quirky novel.
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I was roughly the same age as Tom Grendel, the 17-year-old protagonist in the hilarious and heartfelt young adult novel Grendel's Guide to Love and War, when I was first introduced to Beowulf. As was the case for most acne-ridden teenagers, the Old English epic was required reading for me in high school. All these years later, I really couldn't tell you that much about it. All I remember is that Beowulf is a warrior who overcomes three separate monsters—a hairy beast called Grendel, Grendel's vengeful mother, and a dragon—to bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom. I also remember there was a lot of mead drinking. At any rate, 1,000 years after it was written, Beowulf might seem far removed from our modern times. But in Grendel's Guide to Love and War, author A.E. Kaplan modernizes the setting and inverts the roles to tell a surprisingly human story about loss and memory.

After Tom's mother died from cancer when he was nine, Tom's father, an Iraq war veteran, moved to Lake Heorot, Virginia, hoping the quiet town would calm his PTSD. The neighborhood is largely populated with elderly women, all of whom Tom knows through his summer lawn-mowing business. But when the Grendels' next-door neighbors move away, their niece Ellen, a famous television reporter, moves in with her two children, Rex and Willow Rothgar.

Tom grew up with the Rothgars visiting next door every now and then, so their appearance causes him some consternation. This is because 1). He's been in love with Willow for years and 2). He can't stand Rex, who mercilessly bullies him. Soon Ellen is called away on assignment, and Rex begins hosting loud, drunken parties that force Tom's father out of the neighborhood. The parties only get worse when the Rothgars' older cousin, Wolf Gates, comes to stay. Tom realizes that it's up to him, his best friend Ed, and his sister Zip to shut down the parties and restore peace and quiet to the neighborhood. The only problem is, while he wants to chase Rex and Wolf out of town, he doesn't want Willow to leave with them.

What ensues is a humorous and entertaining prank war in which both the scale and the consequences continue to escalate. Wolf and Rex prove formidable foes, willing to cross lines of decency and legality that Tom and his friends won't. Kaplan keeps the pranks highly improbable, yet somewhat believable. The protagonists are always just out of reach of true harm, with any fear of serious reprisals from the law conveniently dealt with. The repercussions of their actions never last long, which makes the whole story feel like a light, fun summer read. It isn't the sort of novel you'll be chewing over for days, but its immensely fun when you're in the midst of it.

The novel really shines in its characterization. As a first-person narrator, Tom Grendel is endlessly charming, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once at his narrative asides and one-liners. Contemplating the passing of a neighbor with a penchant for going commando, Tom says, "Death is like that, I suppose. One moment you're feeling the breeze under your clothes, and the next it's all over."

But the book isn't all laughs. Tom and Zip deal with both the death of their mother and the fallout of becoming caretakers for their damaged father. In the third act, the book takes a surprising turn when the siblings embark on a long drive to uncover a piece of their mother's past. The trip doesn't go as planned, and feels like a realistic yet sweet portrayal of how memory never quite lives up to reality.

This tension, then, is where the crux of the novel lies. In her author's note at the end, Kaplan mentions that after reading Seamus Heaney's modern translation of Beowulf, she realized that "Beowulf is about memory…Beowulf, more than anything, wants to be remembered." Memory runs deep through the storyline in Grendel's Guide to Love and War. Tom and Zip struggle to remember their mother, who died when they were young. Their father is haunted by his memories of the war. Tom carries out an oral history project with his neighbors in an attempt to record their histories. And he has to reconcile his recollections of Willow, with whom he shared his first kiss at 14, with the woman she is becoming now.

The fact that this all takes place in a few short weeks in July makes Grendel's Guide to Love and War the perfect summer novel. It is fun and funny, lighthearted, but not without gravitas. And at its heart, it's still the familiar old story of a hero battling evil. It's been good enough for more than 1,000 years; there's no reason it can't keep working now.
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This book was a better version of a John Green novel. I loved the complex characters, the sweet romance, and the simplistic writing. I highly recommend this book!
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This book is exactly what I wanted to see from a retelling: so masterful and creative that the reader does not immediately realize that the story is, in fact, a retelling. Grendel is a truly sympathetic character, not entirely without blame for the situation but largely likeable and believable. He's a little hapless. Kaplan has built this book more off of the broad concepts of the original rather than the literal details (it would be far bloodier otherwise), which means that even a reader who doesn't know the original can enjoy this novel and allows for some original plot twists. While it's not particularly deep, it is a solidly entertaining read.
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This is definitely a unique story! Tom is an interesting character, though what I liked best about him was simply that most of his close friends were just old widows whom he sort of looked after, and he definitely gets up to some strange antics in what has to be the most intense prank war of all time. 

What I would have liked to see more of was his relationship with his father - I mean, his dad is one of the most interesting characters in the book, and he disappears for more than half of it - and a deeper storyline for his obsession with his late mother's art. I think that could have played a much more central role in the overall story (This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills does that beautifully, but this book kind of falls short of the mark there for me - it just doesn't pack the same kind of emotional punch). 

I really wanted to love this book, but instead I came out feeling like it was a solid read that could have been something truly amazing with just a little more DEPTH. If you're in the mood for something light and funny with just a touch of emotional depth, this is a good choice for your summer reading list.
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This book was really cute, light and interesting. 
YA is funny with me, I usually tend to only read LGBT YA books but I have been branching out. 

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I really loved this book.  The story was a simple tale of a young boy trying to make his way in the world, but there was so much depth in its simplicity.  I think many modern YA authors try to overdo it by writing about current issues or trendy topics. They fail to understand that, while these novels are important, we also need stories that transcend time. A.E. Kaplan creates a timeless coming of age story in Grendel's Guide to Love and War.  I laughed, I got angry, I felt emotional. I'm not going to say I cried, because I'm not a crier, but I definitely felt. The cast of characters was unique in a way that made me want to learn more about them, but also familiar in a way that I, and many others, could identify with them.  Overall, this is a great read for fan of YA novels: reluctant readers, adults, romance fans, fantasy nerds, etc.  Bonus: There is a Beowulf tie-in!  English teachers will love what Kaplan writes in the author's note.
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For some reason while I was reading this book, it didn't dawn on me that this is a retelling of Beowulf. I know, I know... The name Grendel is right there in the title, but it totally bypassed my mind until I read the author's note at the end.

I really enjoyed this book.  Poor Tom is just trying to keep things normal for his dad, who suffers from PTSD. But his new neighbors don't know how to stop partying. And his neighbors have no regard for anyone else in the neighborhood.

Tom, his friend, and his sister pull as many stunts as they possibly can to get them to stop with their shenanigans. But nothing seems to work, and the pranks the neighbors pull just keep getting bigger and bigger.

The book was funny, lighthearted at times, and heavy in some areas. It talks about not only Tom, but also family, friendships, and that one person you can't get out of your head.

You'll laugh, shake your head at the pranks, and smile. There's pretty much nothing more you could ask for in a book. This would be a great summer read.
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If you're a fan of John Hughes and all of the fantastic teenage posies of the 1980's then you're going to want to read this GRENDEL'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND WAR. Set in the present day, Tom Grendel, his best friend Ed, and Tom's crush Willow, get into mischief and mayhem and I enjoyed every second.

Tom and his dad live in a quiet neighbor that's primarily populated by elderly folk. This works out perfectly for Tom's dad, an Iraqi war vet, whose PTSD is less likely to be triggered in this usually peaceful environment. Tom adds to his college fund by mowing the lawns around the neighborhood, drinking tea so sweet he has to chew it, and taking the time to talk to ladies who don't get many visitors.

But Tom and his dad's peaceful serenity is disrupted when the Rothgar's make next-door their home. Tom is quite acquainted with Rex and Willow Rothgar and their mother due to their summer visits. Rex is a piece of work and basically Tom's arch-nemesis. Willow is Tom's long-time crush but he doesn't have the nerve to tell her how he feels.

I love it when a character just charms the pants off me. Tom Grindel was that character for me. He was funny, a little self-depreciating, and just so darn endearing. Tom and his friends come up with fun and creative ways to get rid of his annoying new neighbors. Admittedly, some of this was a little exaggerated but I think this was all for the sake of comedic relief and I enjoyed it.
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Grendel’s Guide to Love and War is a loose retelling of Beowulf, which many have read in high school. I’m in the minority who only had to briefly study the story. My memory fails me, so I cannot compare this young adult contemporary retelling. I can, however, tell you that it is a very entertaining, original read.
The themes of PTSD and grief are handled in a beautiful and respectful way. Tom Grendel’s father is an Iraq vet with PTSD. They live in a neighborhood of mainly retirees, so the loud parties next door hasn’t exactly been a problem before. It triggers his dad’s PTSD sending him into pure panic. This just won’t fly for Tom Grendel. Thus begins a prank war in attempt to get the loud parties to stop. It doesn’t exactly help that Tom has a crush on the sister of the party-thrower.
Adding depth to the story is this deeper side to Tom that I very much enjoyed. He looks out for his elderly neighbors while also trying to preserve their memories by interviewing them. This is such a beautiful characteristic. It makes it near impossible not to love him.

Tom’s friendship with his best friend Ed is very fun to read about. It’s a friendship goals sort of situation. Ed is so witty and I just really liked him. Zipora was an excellent older sister. The display of their sibling relationship from the bickering to their clear love for one another was realistic.
The story is very well-written. I couldn’t get enough of the neighborhood Grendel’s world is set in. The characters were very excellent. I look forward to reading A.E. Kaplan’s next book. I high recommend to fans of young adult contemporary fiction. Be sure to check this one out!
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"The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Revenge of the Nerds" was the perfect way to describe this book! I am not sure what I was expecting, but this book was a very pleasant surprise.

The book made me laugh out loud more than once, and I really loved the characters. It was good to see a well-written view of PTSD, since I find that most books get it wrong to the point of being disrespectful, and I thought the dynamics between Tom and his father were really good. 

There was an excellent balance of fun and feels. I would be laughing, then all of a sudden I would be feeling really emotional. I really enjoyed Tom and Ed's friendship. Heck, I enjoyed pretty much everything.

This was a great debut, and I would definitely read more by this author!
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This was an well-paced novel that managed to be both thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly deep. It's also nice to find a good story with a male POV -- this should interest the teenage boys who are sometimes the hardest patrons to reach. My one quibble is that Willow's character came across as flat and almost unnecessary, but the book's good qualities seem to outweigh this objection.
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First, if I were reviewing this for the professional publication I review for, I would have totally recommended a star. Kirkus gave it one, which I fully approve of! 

Now let's talk about this whole Beowulf thing. I honestly knew NOTHING about this book when I started reading it - I didn't even read the official blurb until after the fact. I requested it from NetGalley because as a school librarian I request every single middle grade and YA title and sample a gazillion of them, only finishing the ones that grab me within the first chapter or so. This one grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. I laughed and I cried, sometimes simultaneously, and fell so deeply in love with Tom Grendel. But. I had no idea there was a Beowulf storyline, and to be honest, it wouldn't have mattered because I have never read Beowulf (Oh come on. Have you?). Maybe I would have a completely different opinion of this book if I knew that story? Who knows, but what I do know is that none of my high school students have read Beowulf either, and I know a bunch of kids who I will immediately hand this book to. I'm sure there is added depth for those familiar with that body of work, but for those unashamed of our unfamiliarity with it, there is plenty of material to love. For those who want more information on that part of the storyline, there is back matter describing the author's motivation regarding Beowulf (and which represents my complete knowledge of the topic).

A few of the things about Grendel's Guide to Love and War that I especially loved:

1) Grendel's respect for and kindness toward all of the older women he is surrounded by in his neighborhood. There were so many times I just wanted to hug him for being so sweet.
2) His aching grief for his mother, and his quest to really know who she was. The emotions were so raw and real, and made me cry.
3) His relationship with his father, a man traumatized by his military combat experiences. The fact that his entire feud with his neighbors is based on his attempt to save his father from PTSD episodes is absolutely heartbreaking. 
4) Just how extremely FUNNY this book is! I don't want to include spoilers, but some of the pranks were completely ridiculous and I loved the author's descriptions and writing style during these scenes. Was everything believable? Not really, but I didn't care. 

Required reading for fans of John Green and Jeff Zentner.
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Grendel's Guide to Love and War 
by A.E. Kaplan 
MichellemyBelle's review Mar 28, 2017  ·  edit
liked it
bookshelves: 2017-comimg-soon, recommend-this-to-library, teen-and-ya, arc, currently-reading 

***ARC provided in exchange for an honest review***

A modern adaptation of Beowulf. Grendel's Guide to Love and War was a tough read for me. The description sounded quirky and interesting. Sadly I made it to about 69% and struggled to want to know how it will all end. Written with a younger audience in mind, the well written high jinx and endless pranks would definitely appeal more to an adolescent male audience. Which delights me all the same, since most teen/young adult books seem to be written to appeal more to a female audience. 

The story focuses on the main character Grendal, his sister Zipora, and his best friend Ed (Who was my favorite character. What a guy!). The peace of Grendal's neighborhood is severely threatened by the 'new' next door neighbours and their unsupervised loud nightly parties. It is up to Grendal to put a stop to this and win back the thing he desires most. Precious sleep. Through a series of retaliatory pranks, the story is spun.

I did not get a lot of the humor between the three main characters, including their banter and dialogue. I found the lack of parental or adult involvement frustrating, coupled with the over the top pranks ended up making me feel the novel was going nowhere fast. You know, the 'definition of insanity'...and all that. 

3 stars, because it was well written, unfortunately the characters fell flat, the plot monotonous. I am hopeful that the reason I feel this way is entirely personal and and solely based on the fact that I am perhaps not the targeted audience for this read.
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"Tom no," Zip said. "Tom," I said, "yes."

* * * * *
5 / 5

This book managed to be a hilarious, witty, endearing and slightly heartbreaking page turner all at once. I was thoroughly impressed. This book had such a solid main cast from Tom Grendel himself, lawn mower and interviewer of old ladies, to his wild actress sister Zip, best friend Ed, and unruly teenagers next door, Willow and Rex (bro-iest bro ever to bro). It also managed to be so lighthearted and genuinely funny whilst touching on some serious topics.

"There'd been a raw honesty to that moment. That was what I wanted: the rawness. The perfect distillation of self, with no lies, no clutter. The beautiful clarity of knowing and being known"

Kaplan wrote in the Author's Note that this was actually very vaguely based off of Beowulf, which I haven't read so did not recognise the obvious allusion to Grendel, with teenage parties and escalating prank wars instead of sword-waving feuds. Grendel's Guide to Love and War is, in Kaplan's words, a story about loyalty and blood feuds, but also about memory and its intrinsic ties to intimacy, how the memories that get dredged up involuntarily can be even more powerful than those we seek out. I reckon that's pretty accurate.

Tom Grendel lives with his dad, an Iraq veteran, in a suburb entirely populated by retired old ladies. They pay Tom to mow their lawns and never has a party ever been heard until Ellen Rothgar comes to town with Willow and Rex in tow. When she goes away for a few weeks the music starts pumping and the weed is being smoked like there's no tomorrow - only problem is that this is wreaking havoc on Tom's dad's PTSD. So when he leaves town to get some peace, Tom and his friend Ed decide that they're going to get the party shut down. Tom's older sister Zip comes home for a spell, only to find that a misguided romance in the form of Wolf is "babysitting" the Rothgar kids.  It starts with signal jammers and short circuiting and somewhere along the way involves the crazy neighbour with a gun, the local pig farmer who feeds his livestock "artisanal weed", and the local OAP with an eyepatch and a probation.

"It means," I said, "that I am about to own Rex Rothgar."
"What do you have in mind?"
Boldness. Brilliance. Manliness. I said, "Guile." 

Most of the reason that I loved this book was down to the characters. Tom Grendel is one decent human being. Not only does he mow lawns and weed gardens for his college fund, he also interviews the inhabitants of his neighbourhood, wanting to preserve their stories. He's one of these people that shows you who he is, keeps no secrets, even if it ends in him in a lake full of snakes and his best mate Ed on the phone trying to bail him out. Ed Park's life dream is to become a premier-level vinteer and spends all his time using forged ID to get into wine tasting events. He also has a job at a doll cafe. It's these sorts of little details about the characters that make them real. 

I laughed. "I am not your manic pixie dream boy, Willow Rothgar. I serve only myself"

Tom's had a crush on Willow Rothgar, who was in fact his first kiss, for a while. So when she moves next door he finds his chance to exchange some serious eye contact. At least until, you know, her brother Rex starts throwing banging house parties at 3am. So there's a little romance sideplot alongside the pranking, and then there's the Tom and Zip's mother. She died when Tom was younger and his dad doesn't much like to talk about her. He's chasing her memory whilst trying to hang on to a father who is still traumatised but not seeking help. This book threads together a lot of ideas really well. It's about family and memory and friendship and college and dealing with idiots.

The writing is also superb. The dialogue is pretty witty without being over the top and the text can be genuinely funny without making the book too "young". When I read on my Kindle I use the highlighter function for lines that are funny or poignant, and one of the first I underlined was:

"I hadn't imagined that would be the last time I'd see Mrs Taylor ensconced in her substantial undergarments, waving a bag of Friskies and screaming"

It blends seamlessly between this sort of casual humour and some really nice thoughtful ideas. I would absolutely recommend Grendel's Guide to Love and War as a light but unique read.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book.
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