Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Handbook

Benton, Jim. The Handbook
September 26th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jack loves to scavenge things from the trash, so when his elderly neighbors, the Wallaces, relocate to Florida, he hides quite a haul in the garage. Before he knows it, Mr. Wallace is back in his neighborhood, looking disheveled, and talking in hushed tones with Jack's parents about something he can't find. Jack and his friend Mike go through the boxes and find a suspicious book, Favorite Turnip Recipes of the World. This turns out to be a fake cover for the official parenting handbook that has led their parents to spout platitudes about their faces freezing that way and about eating all of their meals because there are starving children in Africa. Mike and Jack, along with Jack's crush, Maggie, read the book and start to manipulate their parents into doing what they want. They convince their parents that ice cream is dairy, and dairy is good, so ice cream for breakfast is fine, which all seems fairly innocuous until The Parents Agency kidnaps the children and the Resistance comes to their rescue. Who knew that parents were so organized in their attempts to control children, or that the children were so tired of doing things that were in their best interest? There is a lot at stake, at Jack, Mike and Maggie need to weigh the social and political importance of The Handbook before deciding their course of action.
Strengths: This was a lot of goofy fun, and the chapters all started with an illustration, although this does not appear to be (from the E ARC) a notebook novel. Jack and Mike are amusing characters, and Jack's crush on Maggie is on point. Children who are tired of their parents telling them to play outside, wash behind their ears, eat their vegetables, and clean their rooms will find some vindication in the actions of the Resistance. In some ways, this is a topsy turvy Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the new Millennium.
Weaknesses: The start of this was a bit slow, and a lot of time was spent setting the stage for The Handbook with the parents spouting platitudes. The plot took a while to emerge.
What I really think: While this has more white space on the page than Benton's Dear Dumb Diary series (which is more text dense than the covers would indicate, leading to some unhappy students), I'm just not sure whether I will purchase this one. None of the sides come out looking very charitable.

Ms. Yingling

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