Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Don't Read These Two on the Same Night

Andrew Clements, of course, does middle grade novels about teachers who don't quite get what wonderful social changes students are trying to effect. Having learned about Ghandi's protests, the 5th graders in No Talking decide that they will have a contest to see who can talk the least, and it gets them into trouble for no particularly good reasons. It's funny, with a sly humor that appeals to all ages, but more importantly, empowers children. This is the case in all of the Clements' books that, as my son puts it, "have a child holding something in front of his face on the cover." Reluctant or struggling readers in middle school turn to these for comfort, so I will buy this one.

If this isn't a glowing review, it's because I read it on the heels of James St. James' Freak Show, about one gay/transgendered boy who moves to Florida and attends a very conservative, preppy school. This is not a middle school book. Much, much language. I'm not even sure it's a high school book. It's meant to be funny, but touch the deeper issues of "Everyone is a freak in some way so we should be understanding of everyone."

I couldn't stomach it, because the main character, Billy, goes out of his way to make himself a target. Sure, in a perfect world we would all be able to show the world who we really are, but in reality, this is a bad, bad idea. So I had trouble feeling sympathy for Billy when he wanted to start the school year and "blend in" by wearing a ruffled pirate shirt. No. Not in high school. Do I, as an adult, wear polyester prom dresses from the '70s to work? Yes. But people do not really see me and do not care. Would I have done this in middle school? No. While amusing, I can't see this as a constructive book to give any student, especially one having trouble fitting in.

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