Sunday, October 10, 2021

Alley & Rex

Ross, Joel N. Alley & Rex
September 28th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alley is constantly in trouble at Blueberry Hill school, because he has poor impulse control and is always doing something like using cafeteria trays to toboggan down the stairs, which younger students then copy. The principal of his school is more understanding than many would be, and feels that Alley has a kind heart. This doesn't stop her from frequently contacting Alley's parents, who are so tired of this that they threaten to send him to live with his Grannie Blatt, who worked at Steggles Academy. She can use her influence to get him enrolled, and he will benefit from the much stricter discipline. After an incident involving younger children bouncing a burrito into a ceiling fan, incited by Alley, the principal and his parents make him a deal-- get an A on his science test, and he can stay at Blueberry Hill. If not, it's off to Grannie Blatt with her horrible toe nails and calf's foot jelly. To help him, the principal assigns him to work with Rex (part of the HOST program-- Helping Other Students Thrive), who is younger, brighter, and wears a rabbit suit to school every day. Rex thinks that Alley should do a presentation instead, but Alley gets distracted when he hears teachers talking about the rumored "Golden Keys". These are apparently folders with the answers to all of the tests. Instead of having to learn things to get his A, Alley will just steal the binders. This, of course, is more work than actually studying, and leads to all manner of high jinks in the school. In the end, Rex manages to save the day, Alley gets to stay at his school, and we also learn that he was helping Rex by being a friend to him.
Strengths: You know when you see a James Patterson "jimmy" book that looks like it will be funny, but ends up being tremendously sad or somehow horrible? I, Funny and Pottymouth and Stoopid, I'm looking at you. Well, this is the book that you were thinking you would be reading. It's funny, with lots of good turns of phrases, zany characters, and improbable school situations. It also has a bit of heart, with a very dear Bubbie to offset the stereotypical horrible Grannie Blatt. Tweens who struggle with impulse control will have more sympathy for Alley than I did, and the lengths to which he goes to get the Golden Keys instead of studying seemed like something that would make sense to children faced with difficult school assignments. The supporting characters have their own little quirks, and Rex wields an impressive vocabulary. I can see this being a very popular book with students. When Alley's teacher asks him what he wants in a book, we get this interchange (from the E ARC) "Mr. Kapow: 'What do you like in a book? Me: Rocket Launchers! Barfing! Mutant Frogs!'" While Alley & Rex doesn't quite deliver those things, it does deliver plenty of hiding under teachers' lounge tables, devious plans involving overflowing water fountains, and unexpected confetti. 
Weaknesses: While children will certainly love this, it was one of those books that strained my credulity. Do principals really make bargains like this with students? Do grandparents (who are now about MY age) really make calf's foot jelly? How did Alley and Rex wander the hallways so much? And sure, Rex saves the day, but did Alley really LEARN the water cycle? I prefer humorous books that are also realistic; pretty sure my patrons don't hold books to this standard as much as I do. 
What I really think: While this wasn't my personal favorite, it didn't bug me the way some books do. It was funny and well written, and light on the super quirky. My mind is completely blown that this author wrote the speculative fiction The Fog Diver and The Lost Compass, as well as Beast and Crown, but I think I will buy this for some of my readers who struggle a bit. It's short, but a bit longer and harder than Stink Moody books, and Alley's personality is much more like Big Nate's than Greg Heffley's.

Ms. Yingling

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