Thursday, September 25, 2008

Petrucha's The Rule of Won

Caleb's a slacker and proud of it-- that is, until his girlfriend decides he is a liability in her attempt to gain class presidency. In order to "improve" him, Vicky insists he go to a meeting to discuss a new self-help book, The Rule of Won. Based on the premise that positive thinking can make everything one might want come true, the book has spawned "craves" where people help each other think positively. Led by Ethan, a polished but disturbed boy, Caleb's school's crave tries to better the school-- wishing for funding to repair the gym, and hoping that the sad basketball team (named the "basket Cases"!) wins a game. These two things are accomplished by chanting, posting thoughts on a web site, and just perhaps by some questionable intervention.

At first, Caleb thinks that this is all good, until he realizes that his new friend Erica is counting on positive thinking instead of studying to pass her algebra exam. His girlfriend starts to see Ethan, and Caleb begins to suspect that neither Ethan or The Power of Won are entirely benign.

This was an immensely fun and ultimately thought provoking book. This would be so much better for class discussion than The Pigman or Of Mice and Men (both of which are foisted upon 8th graders in my school.) It hits a lot of great discussion themes- mob psychology, community involvement, responsibility, and (ta da!) personal identity, every student's main concern. Not only that, but it was packed with sentences that I felt compelled to read aloud to my daughter. My favorite, from an interchange between Caleb and his grandfather:

"The TV isn't on. You sick?" (says the grandfather.)
"No, I'm reading. You're just like Mom. What is it with you guys. I read sometimes."
"Right. And sometimes I like to put on ballet tights and do a few plies."

Note that I have the book at school only because my daughter was sleeping when I left. She picked it up every time I laid it down last night. I thought I would have to arm wrestle her for it.

My complaints are small. I did not like the prologue. The first chapter pulled me in (what reluctant reader wouldn't keep reading after "As a proud, self-avowed slacker..."), but students who read the prologue might be confused. It's in the third person, and concerns characters who aren't mentioned until later in the book. I will suggest that students skip the prologue. The other complaint is that there were two acronyms in the first pages that escaped me, although students, with their fondness for text messaging might get. I figured out GP was grandpa, but had to goolgle IMHO. (In my humble opinion?)

Petrucha has vast experience as a writer, and I am glad to see that he is turning to an area that is hard to find-- humorous books for boys with enough message and literary device that they can also use them for the inevitable Lotus Diagram project. I am hoping to see a lot more by this writer.

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