August 6, 2018 12:40 PM   Subscribe

What’s the grown-up-book equivalent of The Pushcart War?

I loved this book when I was a kid, and I have a hankering for meatier, more mature (but still escapist and fun) books about plucky underdogs taking on The Man and winning. Not to mention most of the books I've read this year have been pretty dark and I'd really like a book that ends on a happy note.

Here’s what I specifically liked about the book and would like to see more of:

- Light-hearted, not about life-and-death struggles
- Clever/funny/a little quirky
- Clear-cut “good guys” and “bad guys,” with a satisfying and decisive win for the good guys
- A quick and straightforward read - not overly plotty, no overwrought prose
- Optional but nice: a real-world setting with a distinct sense of place

Only books, please. Fiction or nonfiction, adult or YA. I tend not to get into fantasy or SF but wouldn’t rule them out. I’d prefer books that aren’t male-gazey and that pass the Bechdel test/Mako Mori test.
posted by Metroid Baby to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You might enjoy the Dortmunder novels by Donald Westlake! Mostly males but only the bad guys are male-gazey.

Also Terry Pratchett; "Going Postal" and "Wyrd Sisters" in particular.
posted by The otter lady at 12:49 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Some of Jonathan Lethem's earlier books, like Motherless Brooklyn or Gun, With Occasional Music, would definitely fit the bill.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:05 PM on August 6, 2018

Basically all of Roald Dahl's kids' stuff hits the same notes as The Pushcart War, although it's still kids'/YA fiction so maybe pitched younger than what you're looking for. Fantastic Mister Fox and Danny Champion of the World in particular I think, but really all of it.
posted by phoenixy at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2018

How about (YA) The Phantom Tollbooth?
posted by ubiquity at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2018

It's been quite some time since I read it, but The Milagro Beanfield War might work.
posted by praemunire at 2:11 PM on August 6, 2018

I just had coffee with the illustrator of The Pushcart War!

A few books I've liked

YA: The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez. Kid moves to new city, has a hard time fitting in, makes it work. This book has realistic younger characters and is quirky and fun.
Non-fiction: The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage. A slightly older book, general premise: when old technologies were new, there was a lot of similarities between how we deal with the internet today. (a little male gazey because of who was building technology)

Also if you haven't read old Ellen Raskin books, you might also really enjoy The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel).
posted by jessamyn at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am currently binging out on Charlotte Macleod’s Sarah Kelling mysteries from the 80s. They are set in Boston, super lighthearted and quirky, with a minimum of gore. A lot of cozy mysteries would fit the bill, actually, Joan Hess’ Maggody books come to mind as well.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:14 PM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

For non-fiction, We Are Market Basket is great. It's about a wonderful, warm, family-owned New England grocery chain where one branch of the family tried to drive the other out. Everyone--customers, suppliers, everyone--stepped up and said "no way." If you live in New England you probably know this; I drove past the protests and participated in the boycott.

It's not a fabulously-written book, but it's straightforward and interesting and the story is so heartwarming.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:29 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yep, I’m definitely familiar with The Phantom Tollbooth and Roald Dahl - by YA I was thinking a few grade levels up from that.

gideonfrog, I live in MA and love Market Basket and remember that time; I missed that there was a book. Perfect!
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:37 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I definitely think you'd like Sourdough by Robin Sloane. It's a lighthearted underdog-succeeds tale about a young woman who moves to San Francisco for a software engineering job, but finds the techbro culture alienating and off putting. Through a strange series of events she finds herself the new caretaker of a very old sourdough starter and she discovers she really, really loves baking bread. I don't want to tell you more about it because I think you should just discover its charms on your own!

It hits every single one of the points you're looking for, plus it passes the Bechdel Test and has a great female protagonist. I read it after reading several heavy, depressing novels and it was a delightful balm. I loved it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:01 PM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

« Older Where have all the music blogs gone?   |   party favors for grown ups Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.