Thursday, October 08, 2009

Messed Up by Janet Nichols Lynch

Lynch's Messed Up kept me on the edge of my seat-- mainly because, given the topic, I thought it might start dropping bad language. R.D is having a hard first day of middle school . Not only is it his second time in eighth grade, he gets caught in a fight between two girls sporting gang colors. While he tries to help so that no one is gravely injured, his previous behavior causes him to be accused of being in the fight, and he is suspended for three days. This is fine with him-- school is a drag. Not that home life is great. His parents are not in the picture (mother in incarcerated for drug dealing, and dad is in Mexico), and his adoptive grandmother has moved out, leaving him with an ailing Earl. When Earl dies, R.D. realizes when the ambulance takes him away that he will be sent into foster care unless he can take care of himself. This takes some doing-- he has to start paying attention to school work, remember to bathe and clean the house, and cook for himself, which he does with varying success. In the end, he is discovered, and the help of an attorney cleans up things too neatly. Still, there was something appealing about this. There were a few slightly inappropriate situations, and a lot of use of "ho" and "biatch", but the depiction of R.D. learning what it takes to care for himself was intriguing. The writing was a little uneven ("sez" and more informal use of language is used at the beginning, but dropped. While this may reflect changes in character, it was distracting), and there were some plot developments not fully addressed (the friend who is cutting), but this will appeal to readers. I'll be interested to see what Lynch comes out with next.

My 6th grader is reading A Long Way From Chicago and complaining about Grandma Dowdel, and unfortunately this colored my enjoyment of Peck's latest in this series, A Season of Gifts. By 1958, Grandma has moved to town but continues her down home ways. She is observed, in this installment, by Bob, the son of the new minister, his younger sister Ruth Ann, and his older sister Phyllis (who is secretly dating the town punk). The situations in this book seemed strained to me, and the message belabored. Peck's a great writer, but perhaps the awards have made him out of touch with students. The Teacher's Funeral hasn't been checked out in two years, but my copies of Ghosts I Have Been and Princess Ashley are in tatters. A lot of copies of this will be bought, but I'm just not sure how many will be read by children.

Two books that just didn't fit what I needed (and I only read about 30 pages of each): Kephart's Nothing But Ghosts, which was beautifully written but didn't, as a child expressed yesterday, "have a ghost that jumps out at people on the first page". Dolby's Secret Society looked interesting, but after the party's vodka sponsors didn't come through and there was passing mention of "she lost her virginity to him", I decided it wasn't for middle school. Also don't understand all the fashion designer name-dropping that's been working its way into books. This will date them horribly, and I have never heard of most of them. Maybe they're made up?

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