Johnson, Peter. The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini
24 January 2012, HarperCollins
It's annoying having such a common name and being an average guy, which is why John doesn't mind that his friends call him Houdini, even if people like bully Angel call him Weenie. Houdini's family situation is a little precarious-- his mother works at the dry cleaning store that Angel's mother runs, his father is afraid of lay offs, and his older brother Franklin is stationed in Iraq. When an author comes to his school, Houdini decides to write a book about himself so he can earn money for his family. He chronicles his problems with Angel, his work in the neighborhood raking leaves, his encounters with Old Man Jackson, a "scary" Vietnam vet whom local entrepreneur Gregory Gregory is trying to evict, and his families struggles when Franklin is missing in action.
Strengths: I liked Houdini, and this is a great book for middle school boys in many ways. Short length, good cover, realistic supporting characters, good sense of community, very nice. I wish I had put it in my book order yesterday! Bonus: the Accelerated Reader level is 5.7; of course, now no one in my school can read anything under 6.0. Look at an AR book list sometime. It's War and Peace for everyone! Sigh.
Weaknesses: I didn't like the construct of Houdini writing a book. His inclusion of various lists and discussion of what makes a good book slowed the story down and gave this a weird 1970s feel.