review of middle-grade book Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink by MAC

Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink

by MAC, illustrated by Glenn Fabry

Toasted Coconut Media (May 2008)

ISBN-10: 193490600X, ISBN-13: 978-1934906002

Ages 9-12

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The skinny man skidded to a halt when he saw Anna. “It’s you,” he breathed. The officer tried to push him on, but the skinny man wouldn’t budge. He stared at Anna, his large bug eyes nearly popping from his long, thin face. “You’re that girl, aren’t you? You’re her! That’s you, isn’t it?”
Anna nodded.
“Can you help me? Please! I don’t wanna be a criminal any more!”
Anna slid off the bench and placed one of her business cards in his cuffed hand. “When you get out, give me a call.”
The police office stared at Anna strangely as he led a much quieter man toward the jail cells in back.

Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink by MAC, illustrated by Glenn Fabry, p. 1-2.

Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink is a funny, over-the-top parody of supervillians and heroes, with Anna Smudge being the child hero (she doesn’t have super powers, just a great empathy and ability to listen). It’s a great romp, though there were so many things I didn’t believe that that interfered with my completely enjoying the story.

11-year-old Anna Smudge is ignored by her parents, and bullied at school. She is teased for being slow. But when she realizes her gift of taking the time to really listen to people, she becomes a shrink, helping others solve their problems. At the same time, a villain escapes prison, and his life starts intersecting with Anna’s. Eventually Anna helps solve the mystery of who the criminal mastermind is.

MAC starts the book showing us the incredible respect Anna has from adults, and then takes us nine days previous to that scene, where Anna is like many kids–with little to no attention and respect from adults, bullied by another kid, and feels a bit alone. It was smart of MAC to start the book that way; it makes an incredible hook–showing us a child having power–before taking us to the somewhat depressing state of Anna’s life (bullied, feeling alone and an outsider, not getting attention from parents) and then the progression to her almost celebrity status. Anna has a great deal more power and respect from adults than most children ever have–an unbelievable amount–and this will appeal to many child readers.

I enjoyed Anna’s movement from a bullied, lonely kid to someone with a lot of friends who is respected even by adults. But there were so many plot events that were so completely unbelievable that they kicked me out of the story again and again, and interfered with my enjoyment of the book. There were a lot unresolved plot lines, suggesting a sequel–though I would have liked a few more resolved.

Anna is a likable character, and readers will root for her. Many things add to her appeal–her success and incredible respect in the beginning hook and at the end of the book, her empathy for others, and the way she is neglected and ignored by her parents, and bullied by a peer (which brings reader empathy). It also helps that Anna has friends rallying around her (an increasing number throughout the book) when she is bullied, not believed, or someone she loves is in danger.

MAC uses great humor throughout the book, though I found it the most refreshing and funny in the early pages (where the inmates of a prison want a group session with Anna). The villains mostly appear bumbling or over-the-top, which helps make them not so scary.

Within each chapter, there is Anna’s storyline, and then the villain’s story line. MAC sets up many plot events nicely, most especially the villain appearing in Anna’s story line, through showing us those events from the villain’s perspective right before he appears in Anna’s life each time. This works very well.

Well-drawn comic images at the beginning of many chapters are a nice touch, and they add to the feeling of the story being like a comic book.

Anna’s suggestions to people to help them were often thoughtful and pointed–but it often seemed unbelievable how quickly people just took her advice. Though when this was built up, such as the change in Anna’s math teacher and in one of the villains, it became more believable. What was completely unbelievable, though, was how adults turned to her as a “professional shrink.” And that’s not even mentioning a multitude of events that I couldn’t force myself to believe, such as the identity of the villain boss, Mr. Who, or Anna’s blackmailer.

What kids will ride with here is the great humor, comic-book like story, and the power and respect that Anna develops, becoming the hero of her own story. It’s also empowering how Anna moves from being a victim to a hero, and how it’s the kids in this book who solve the mystery and help stop a murder.

Other reviews of Anna Smudge:
Jen Robinson

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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