|by Josh Berk|
Alfred A. Knopf
Not only is this one of the Cybils nominees for young adult fiction, but has been tagged for a few other awards, including the Parents' Choice. What seems to be getting the most buzz is the cover - mostly negative buzz, unfortunately. Three tiny people walking? What does this mean, exactly? One looks vaguely worried, the other two are chipper. Not exactly attention-grabbing.
So, then, what is it about? It is the story of Will (Hamburger is his IM name) Halpin, slightly overweight, hearing impaired, and attending public school for the first time. In addition to the usual issues of trying to fit in as the new guy, he has the added issues of being deaf in a school that cannot afford any sort of interpreter or closed captioning. Let's stop here for
Issue #1: Federal law states a school MUST provide what a child in special education needs in order to succeed in class, regardless of whether it fits in the school's budget or not. So, a little unrealistic there.
The big news at school is a birthday party in honor of the star quarterback, whose family is obscenely wealthy.
Issue #2: Why would a wealthy family send their child to an impoverished school?
Needless to say, Will and his new friend Devon (the second least popular kid at school) are not invited, but it really doesn't matter, because the star quarterback is pushed into a mine by...who? We now have a murder mystery which Devon is determined to solve a la Hardy Boys style (their code names are Frank and Chet). They enlist the help of Ebony, Will's smart and sassy former-sort-of-girlfriend from his old school. All sorts of secrets are uncovered before the somewhat-predictable murderer is revealed.
Issue #3: Many of these secrets are pretty heavy stuff. Very adult issues that are often dealt with by teens, unfortunately. Yet, the tone is never serious. It has been a while since we were in high school (our mascot was a snail), but we don't remember being so blase about tragic events. The voice of the characters made us feel like they were in middle school, watching some drama on the high school stage. A bit removed, more curious than concerned. Yes, Will is new to the school, and not personally vested in the murder victim, so that may explain some of it.
We do like Will. And Devon, and Ebony. Very distinct and fun characters with their own voices. Side characters were a bit one-dimensional, but that didn't hurt the story. Will's interactions with a variety of people in his life offer a good primer to anyone not at all familiar with the deaf community - you get a little bit of politics, some practical dos and don'ts, and a few "I never would have thought of it from that perspective"s.
At times this reminded us of Daniel Pinkwater in its sort of irreverent humor (which may also explain Issue #3). Not that Berk is as brilliant as Pinkwater, mind you, but he definitely shows promise (and he's a librarian - obviously a clever chap. Oops, slipping into Devon-speak there.) While we had a few problems with it, we enjoyed it on the whole, and give it a
4 out of 5.