Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders, by Geoff Herbach

Gabe “Chunk” Johnson is a self-professed band geek.  His biggest problem is a struggle with his weight, and it’s a constant battle for him to drink fewer than four bottles of Code Red Mountain Dew each day.  Gabe’s world gets thrown upside-down when he learns that the proceeds from his favorite vending machine, which had been used in the past to support a summer camp for his school band, will now be used to pay for a professional dancer to coach the cheerleading squad!  Gabe refuses to stay quiet about this new injustice, and he organizes a protest campaign that quickly spirals out of control.

This book is an awesome read, although I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone under the age of 16 since it touches on themes like vandalism, sexuality, and alcohol abuse.  To be fair, though, these things are probably everyday occurrences at any public high school in America.  None of these elements are overly graphic, and I appreciated the way that the author uses them to develop his story.  By the end of the book, I had the chance to examine these characters’ life circumstances in great detail.  It would have been easy to dislike the cheerleaders because they have such a successful outward appearance, for example, but often people have their own struggles which aren’t as visible as Gabe’s obesity.

I really enjoyed this book, since it allowed me a chance to root for an underdog.  Gabe Johnston might not be the most attractive person in his school, and it’d be easy to pass him by without a second thought.  If you did, though, you’d be missing out on the chance to meet a funny, friendly, resourceful kid who’s clearly a force to be reckoned with!  Even if people like Gabe seem to take pride in labeling themselves as “freaks, geeks, or burners”, you’d be missing out on a lot if you passed up on a chance to get to know them!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald

“The Great Brain” is the first in a series of seven books set in Utah, just before the year 1900.  This was also one of my favorite books when I was in school, so it was awesome that I got to read it again for a review on this blog.  The narrator, John, shares stories about his older brother Tom, who claims to be the smartest kid in town.  Even though I’d imagine that these stories probably have some fiction in them, Mr. Fitzgerald presents them as his true-to-life memoirs.

I love reading about different historical eras, and I’d imagine that story-telling was a popular pastime in the days before radio and television.  Young John begins the book with a story about how his family was the first in town to have an indoor flushing toilet installed in their home.  The neighbors came from miles around to see this wonder, and Tom’s great brain came up with the idea of charging admission.  Despite John’s worst fears, the toilet didn’t explode!  The house didn’t stink or flood over, either.

Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t shy away from some of the hard realities of life on the frontier, which often included religious conflicts between Mormons and other faiths.  Alcohol abuse, missing children, a suicide attempt, and other mature subjects are also part of John and Tom’s daily lives.  On re-reading this book, it occurred to me that it almost might be more appropriate for young adults rather than middle-grade readers.  Still, Mr. Fitzgerald presents these issues very matter-of-factly, and I think his intent was to show his readers the obstacles that a normal ten-year-old boy like John would have faced.

“The Great Brain” is one of the few books that I’d say all boys absolutely must read, but it’s appropriate for readers of any age who enjoy adventure stories and problem solving!