Friday, July 08, 2022

The Boy Who Failed Dodgeball

Sonnenblick, Jordan. The Boy Who Failed Dodgeball
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to his elementary memoir, The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell, Sonnenblick explores his memories of his middle school years. He starts at an arts magnet school where he gets to play drums but only knows two other kids, and struggles with impulsive behavior that is fairly benign but gets him sent to the principal's office repeatedly. Since this is set in the 1970s, there are a lot of details about the sorts of daredevil type behavior in which children participated before there were safety innovations like helmets. Today's children, who are more likely to sprain their thumbs playing video games, will marvel at the slavish devotion to replicating Evel Knievel's stunts, but this was definitely something children did. Like the game of "hit the kid on the Green Machine", my brother and I defied death on a Big Wheel, and no one ever told us that perhaps we shouldn't put ourselves in such danger. I believe the parental reply to such things was "Don't come crying to me when you hurt yourself"! There are some good historical details, about the massive celebrations of the Bicentennial, and also a very poignant recounting of the death of John Lennon. Sonnenblick's description of school the next day was spot on, although in high school, about half of the students were zombies in the wake of his killing. The details about having to read Great Expectations (and fighting for copies that didn't smell!) were an intriguing dive into a time when children's opinions didn't matter in the least, and the budding romances with Coty and Vicky will speak to many readers who are looking forward to school dances. Sonnenblick survives, despite his significant struggles with asthma, and leaves room open for another memoir covering later middle school or maybe even his high school years. This is more anecdotal than the first book, and is a great way to introduce fans of Wimpy Kid books to Sonnenblick's terrific writing. 
Strengths: There are always a number of students who deal with asthma, but it is rarely depicted in middle grade literature. While some of the medications have changed, I'm sure that readers who have inhalers will definitely understand Sonnenblick's struggles. There are also a lot of details about being injured; in addition to his own bike accidents, he's hit on the head with a rock at school and gets a concussion. Yet, these were children who I am sure never ran in the hallways at school! I was impressed by Sonnenblick's memories of people and places, and suspect that he must have kept a journal; he's a bit younger than I am, and I can barely remember the names of my teachers. The cover is fantastic, and this is a humorous, quick pick for readers who enjoy memoirs like Scieszka's Knucklehead, Yelchin's The Genius Under the Table, Collard's Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts: Journeys of a Biologist's Son or Page's Button Pusher. 
Weaknesses: Maybe I'm imagining it, but the first book seemed more like a novel. This definitely felt more like a memoir. I kept waiting for there to be more of a plot, but eventually realized that real life is pretty short on plot elements. Also, I'm not a huge fan of telling young readers that middle school is horrible. It wasn't great for me, but my own children rather enjoyed it, which I thought was surprising and just a little weird. (My one daughter was even weepy for days upon leaving!)
What I really think: It was fun to watch young Jordan progress through middle school, even though I had trouble believing that he was sent to the principal's office quite so much! I do feel like I should go find a packet of Fruit Stripe gum, though. 

1 comment:

  1. Mmm, I loved Fruit Stripe gum. I wonder if I would still remember how to make gum wrapper chains? There was a useless skill!