Friday, February 03, 2023

Farewell Friday- The Squeaky Wheel

Smith, Robert Kimmel. The Squeaky Wheel
September 1st 1990 by Delacorte Books
Library copy

Mark Baker is irritated. His parents were rude enough to get divorced. As if that weren’t bad enough, he and his mother move to an apartment in a dingy neighborhood and he has to attend a school that isn’t as bright and shiny as his old one. The first day of school is rough, especially since his mother slept in AND has the gall to have gone back to work after being home with him his whole life. He runs afoul of school bully Phil Steinhaus, who lives with his waitress mother and “fat” sister who is in beauty school. He does make a friend of Joe Chang, whose parents run the local Chinese restaurant, when their mothers force them together, but spends most of his time hanging out with Phil, who continually makes bad choices. Some of the girls decide he is a “hunk”, and Carrie, who wears blue eyeshadow and always has a boyfriend, is interested in him. He spends Sundays with his father, who is dating a woman with a young daughter. That’s okay, but he really just wants to go back to his old life, which was perfect. Eventually, he realizes that hanging out with Phil is a bad idea (especially after he shop lifts), spends more time with Joe, and comes to terms with his new life. 
Strengths: This would have been a great book when my students’ parents were in middle school. Mark is a good kid, but back in the 1970s-90s, it was ground breaking to have… whiny characters who were a little bratty. Now, that has been replaced by anxious characters who are learning coping skills in therapy. Times change. I do wish there were more modern books showing children going between households, because that is very common, but it would be even more modern and relevant to show children who have never had fathers in the picture. This was a great book in 1990. Its time is just passed. 
Weaknesses: Phil Steinhaus was rather problematic; even in 1990, this could have been treated better.
What I really think: The library copy is in excellent shape, in part because it’s only left the shelf six times in 32 years. It’s a decent enough story, but very dated in small, everyday ways, like casually referring to people as “fat”. There is an older woman who is a neighbor, and Mark goes into her apartment for tea and cookies; I’m not sure that this would happen today unless the mother introduced herself and did a background check! Smith, who also wrote The War With Grandpa and Jelly Belly (which I weeded years ago, because it is set in a “fat camp”!), died in April of 2020. It’s just time for this book to go, just like Byars’ The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown.

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