The Manny Files by Christian Burch is a delightful middle-school adventure that brings the feels big time.
Nine-year-old Keats has two older sisters and one younger one. With that many kids in the family, their parents regularly hire nannies to take care of them. Keats hasn’t enjoyed this much. The always-female nannies dote on his sisters and ignore him. So when their newest nanny is a man—or Manny, as he insists they call him—he’s pretty excited. Even more so when the Manny brings adventure to them every day! The Manny’s personal motto is “be interesting” and he makes every day fun for Keats by playing loud 80s music, actually eating off the floor if it’s “so clean you can eat off it”, or wearing funny costumes. But Lulu, Keats’ preteen sister, is embarrassed by these hijinks and keeps a book of ‘evidence’ of why she thinks that the Manny isn’t a good babysitter. Keats has every reason to worry that she’ll take it to their parents to get the Manny fired!
The Manny Files is really a fun read. The author has a knack for writing from a child’s perspective; the digressions in the text feel very genuine to conversations with children that age, but never goes so far away that it makes the narrative confusing. Keats’ feelings are genuine and relatable, from being bullied to being afraid to go off the high jump and beyond. His reactions are shown instead of told, and Keats feels like a very genuine person.
This book is often laugh-out-loud funny even to the adult reader, and I frequently paused to read bits out loud to my fiancee. But that doesn’t make it irreverent. The serious moments are treated with gravity by both Keats and the narrator, and there was a part in the book—I won’t spoil you—where I had to put my kindle down and take a ten minute break because I’d started to cry.
You care about Keats, but you care about the adults in his life too, and his siblings, and of course the Manny. I had been a little worried before starting about reading a book with a gay character who’s most defined by his exuberance and flamboyance, but the book solved my doubts. The Manny is a real person, performing his job which involves being larger than life, but his relationship with Uncle Max (which is hardly a secret to the adult readers when you read them together) is genuine, and we see hints of old hurts and tired experiences in his own life that inform how he reacts to the kids’ experiences.
I was very interested in Keats’ changing relationship with his bully, and how we got to see Keats develop empathy. I’m often also wary of the “the bully has a hard life and you just need to be nice to them” stories (as someone who was bullied as a kid myself), but this particular bully’s moods and neediness did come through loud and clear.
I know there’s a sequel and I’m looking forward to reading it soon. I hope too that there will be more books in this series even before I get to read Hit the Road, Manny; that’s how charmed I was by this story!