Johnson, Peter. The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez
June 24th 2014
E ARC from Abovethetreeline.com
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central.
Benny has a rather complicated life that includes a lot of friends and family. There are friends Jocko and Beanie, who are in his class at school and are as interested as Benny is in words. Benny has siblings Crash (who is young, rowdy, and rather sensitive) and Irene (who has a quirky boyfriend Aldo). His older father is retired from teaching, and so around the house a lot, and his grandfather is very involved but who has suffered several strokes.A poetry unit in Benny's class takes up a lot of the time at school, especially when Benny realizes that Claudine also is very fond of poetry, and he might be very fond of her. The time at home is taken up with Crash being Crash, and the slow slippage of the grandfather into poorer and poorer health. Benny doesn't have a great outlook on life (his mother categorizes him as a "glass half empty" sort of person), but he does start to realize that a certain amount of optimism is necessary to make it through the day.
Strengths: Like The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini, this is a nice, short, relatively funny book for boys. Just walk down the shelves of any middle grade fiction collection and pick out all of those-- there aren't many, and so many more are needed. This has a great cover, lots of solid middle grade issues, slight romance, and a character who is a tiny bit ethnic (Spanish name but a fair amount of Irish ancestry as well). This will be a popular book.
Weaknesses: This was a bit light on plot-- I found myself trying to remember what was going on because the book was so anecdotal. Not sure whether students will care.