Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is an eighth grader at Daniel Landry Middle School, assigned with writing an essay with a minimum of five pages about the true meaning of Smekday. If her essay is chosen from thousands of entries, it will be buried in a time capsule to be opened a century into the future. It all began when we found out that there was intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Life of extraterrestrial proportions. Anarchy spreads like wildfire following the visitors’ arrival, discussing plans of renaming Earth to Smekland (to honor Captain Smek) and forcing the entire American population into one state.
If there’s someone who has a lot to tell about their experience, it’s Tip. First of all, her mother just isn’t herself lately. Maybe it has something to do with that strange glowing mole on the back of her neck. Then there’s a friendly visitor who becomes Tip’s friend, dubbing itself “J.Lo”. (I’m dead serious.) But the invasion quickly gives way to a cross-country adventure as J.Lo, Tip, and her cat Pig travel to find Tip’s mom at the Happy Mouse Kingdom. Along the way, they make friends including Chief Shouting Bear, Vicki Lightbody, and the Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov (BOOB). The trio is going to need all the gas in their hovercar if they’re gonna cook up a plan to save the country, maybe even the world.
I think I came across this when I was looking for a good science-fiction book to feast my eyes on. The premise seemed promising and I quickly found myself wanting to read it. My English teacher had the book in his class library, and I found myself plowing through the book a little bit each day during our equivalent of study hall. I was more than elated finding the book at our school library, and days later I’d read the book cover to cover. All the time, all the hours I spent reading this story was definitely worth it. This is the best science fiction book I’ve read since Maximum Ride, and I can tell you why.
- An exquisite sense of humor – Smekday has the freshest gags I’ve heard in a while, and it’s a good reality check compared to the book’s sci-fi intensity. Rex has a gift for proper comic timing that will leave the reader thoroughly amused.
- It’s part-graphic novel – Smekday tells us of the history of the Boov and the Nimrogs (plus other educational nuggets) via comics. It’s a nice art shift that goes beyond the pictures and newspaper clippings.
- GIRL POWER! – Tip is a very empowering character that’s strong and sassy, and knows when and how to speak her mind. She’s like the Spice Girls smashed altogether into a little girl. Boys will hardly feel alienated with the BOOB as well.
- Additional pictures to deepen the experience – Polaroids taken by Tip, newspaper clippings, Tip’s drawings, all of these show up in the book and add some sort of depth to the story so you know what’s happening.
- A really shocking ending – Trust me, you will not see it coming even if you read all the exposition and context there is to read.
- Vivid writing and dialogue – Through Tip’s eyes, it feels like you’re actually there. It’s always fun to picture what’s happening in your mind, from the little things to the more climactic events. Rex has the ability to turn a good laugh into a shocking tragedy with just a few sentences, and this shows as the book nears to its unexpected conclusion.
- Lovable characters – J.Lo has been an adored character by lots of those who read the book. I mean, it’s hard not to love an alien who’s willing to make a car be able to fly, and then later unknowingly eat a urinal cake. Tip’s characterization is more evident since, well, she’s the one telling the story.
- A unique structure – The book is split into thirds. Two thirds are written in essay form, and the third is the longest part of the novel as Tip convinces herself to come flat-out and finish what she started. “Odd”, I believe, is the wrong adjective to use. Well, when’s the last time you read a book like that?
- The community loves it – Many people call Smekday one of their favorite books they’ve ever read, and they give away five-star scores like candy. And this book deserves it, since…well, I’ve already gone into detail. Check out snippets of some Goodreads community reviews:
“…loved the cat, loved Gratuity, loved everything about this book.” – Kaethe
“…Adam Rex’s delicious banquet of pop cultureskewers dipped in saucy social commentary and served alongside a heaping helping of warm, filling comfort food…” – Stephen
“Adam Rex rules.” – Ceridwen
“Pretty much my favorite children’s book of the past few years…” – Paul
“…one of the funniest, constantly entertaining books I’ve read in a long time…” – Chris
Not convinced? Tip and J.Lo have a couple reasons of their own.
“BOOB is an…acronym.” […] “Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov. It stands for that.”
“Shouldn’t it be B-O-A-O-B, then?”
“We really wanted it to be BOOB,” said Marcos, and at the younger boys giggled again. (126)
“Waitaminute,” I said. “BOOB?”
“It’s the name of our club,” said boy number two.
“Are you guys from Florida or something?”
“No,” said Beardo. “Why?”
Both boys shouted over each other.
“It stands for–”
“Backyard telescope Ob…Observation of–”
“Of Occupations by Boov!”
“I don’t know why I ask,” I said, “but shouldn’t your acronym be like, BTOOB or something?”
“BOOB sounds better,” they said.
Boys. Honestly. (225)
The True Meaning of Smekday is a gem among sci-fi books, with vivid writing and fast-paced action, all boiled down to a dramatic finale. Easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I hope I’ll see a story like Smekday in the not-too-distant future, if not a direct sequel. I’ll even accept a spiritual successor. But this is not the last I’ll see from Adam Rex. It’s like an alien-infused Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for kids. Yeah, it’s that good. Not only that, but there’s going to be a movie based off of the book. The name? Home (formerly Happy Smekday!). You’d think that maybe it would be called The True Meaning of Smekday, or even Smekday, but they settled with Home. You’ll never guess who’s playing the two main roles. Rihanna and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. (It took me way too long to realize they’re just doing voices.) The movie doesn’t arrive until next November.
FINAL SCORE: ★★★★★
If you liked The True Meaning of Smekday, check out:
- Cosmic by Frank C. Boyce
- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
- Aliens on Vacation by Clete B. Smith
- Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing this! Well, you know the algorithm–tune in, well, whenever for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak! Be sure to Like this post, and if you’re new don’t forget to abduct that subscribe button! You can also find Sammwak on Google+ where you can get more news and stuff there!
This is where I usually put my video of the week, but I know that you probably don’t know that I have a YouTube channel. Check out my crap-res gaming videos of me playing games on old Nintendo consoles with the power of emulators. I don’t intend for these to catch fire very quickly, but they’re just out there. I think I got the mic working on this one. The computer fan’s a pain in the behind, and I can’t afford to shut it up, so try to bear with it.
Do you think you know Hansel and Gretel? They’re just the kids who drop the bread crumbs and then go to that candy house and eat a lot of food and get fat and almost get eaten by that witch, right? WRONG! Adam Gidwitz has just taken the Hansel and Gretel we know and bathed it in blood-soaked darkness that would make Goosebumps and Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark seem like nursery rhymes. This is definitely not your average fairy tale, and you can tell from the amounts of times Gidwitz jumps into the story to warn you about the most violent pieces of the puzzle, recommending to keep all small children at bay. This story doesn’t just include the candy house witch–it seamlessly intertwines that tale with seven others to create different chapters of the duo’s perilous life:
Faithful Johannes: This beginning chapter serves as a prequel to the rest of the story, revolving around a young prince that is promoted to king after his dad bites the dust, and Faithful Johannes–the late king’s most loyal servant–is tasked to show the new king his entire inheritance save for one room. Johannes was told that if he showed the king this room, it may cost the king his life. Oh, and ravens show up. If you believe in the omen you know something sinister will occur–but these ravens can talk.
Hansel and Gretel: This is where the story of the brother and the sister begins. In context (or if you read chapter one), this would make more sense. After feeling betrayed by their own mom and dad (aka the young king) after a big debacle, they run away into the forest where they come across a candy house. Starving, they proceed to help themselves to the treat, but are caught by the house’s owner, who warmly welcomes them in. She feeds them food to the point where they become fat and lazy, and although this looks like a dream come true, she has plans to make it a nightmare.
The Seven Swallows: You may better recognize this part of the story as The Seven Ravens, a fairy tale of its own. After Hansel and Gretel flee for the second time, they come across a husband and wife with seven sons and a longing wish for a daughter. The father sends his kids off to fetch water, but when his sons do not return, their father curses them so they transform into ravens and fly off. Hansel and Gretel embark on a journey to find the seven sons in a world where the moon craves human flesh, and the results of their adventure will shock you!
Brother and Sister: Picking up where 7 Swallows left off, this chapter follows Hansel and Gretel as they make shelter in Lebenwald (LAY-ben-vault), the wood of life. As Gretel befriends a talking tree whom is practically Lebenwald’s landlord, Hansel realizes he has an animal bloodlust, and he keeps on bringing an offering to the fire no matter how much Gretel tries to stop him. But when Hansel’s murderous mania gets the best of him, his altered beast is revealed.
A Smile Red As Blood: Gretel decides to hit the road alone, shaken and saddened by the events of the last chapter. She stumbles across Schwarzwald (SHVATS-vault), the wood of darkness, but visits the village right by it. When she is rejected by most of the village people (joke not intended), she sits down and mopes. Luckily, an old woman accepts her. Weeks later, Gretel becomes smitten with a dashing young man with red lips. Even if he’s a bit aggressive. One night, Gretel manages to flee from her home and follows the young man’s path into Schwarzwald. The following events are nothing less than grisly, and you’ll probably never look at doves the same way again.
The 3 Golden Hairs: This is probably the most horrifying, dreadful, and macabre chapter in the entire book. You have been warned. When a pair of huntsmen bring an ugly beast home from a hunt, the monster is skinned to reveal something other than flesh, blood, and bone (no Potter reference intended)–a boy. Not just any boy–Hansel! He decides to stay under the watch of the Lord and the Lady, but it turns out that the Lord is an addicted gambler. When he loses to an elusive stranger, he discovers he’s made a deal with the Devil and, to counter it, Hansel must travel to the place Down Under. No, it’s not Australia…
Hansel and Gretel and the Broken Kingdom: In all honesty, all they do is return to their home kingdom to their parents, tell them about their perilous journey, and discover that their home is in ruins due to a great beast. It’s reptilian, it’s fire-breathing, and it rhymes with “flaggin”.
Hansel and Gretel and the Dragon: Almost there. All that happens is Hansel and Gretel manage to start an army to face the dragon and then take it on, but it turns out they were a little unprepared and the results are actually more gruesome than you’d probably like. This is the one chapter all squeamish readers should skip.
Hansel and Gretel and Their Parents: This is it. The very last chapter. After their brawl with the dragon, despite the results not being too successful, Hans and G are still hailed by the kingdom as true heroes. We also see the true identity of the dragon, and then Hans and G become king and queen. Just thought you’d want to know.
Yes, A Tale Dark and Grimm may be very dark, gory, and quite disturbing, but when you peel that layer of the story away it’s an exciting, enthralling, and surprisingly touching fantasy adventure that tells important truths wrapped inside the premises. The messages the story offers are mainly the virtues of forgiveness, love, and trust and how they’re worth all the work. Gidwitz’ dark but droll storytelling skills make Hans and G characters we can empathize for, and we can ultimately comprehend why they came home even after abandonment from their parents.
FINAL SCORE: ★★★★★
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone who loves fractured fairy tales or modern spins on old classics, but is willing to read through a couple of grisly moments.
IF YOU LIKED THAT, CHECK OUT:
(click on the images to teleport to their Amazon pages!)
You know my algorithm: tune in next Friday at 1:00 EST for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: “Harlem Shake” by VideoGameDunkey. Trust me, it’s not what it looks like, but it’s totally worth it.
Hey guys it’s Sam. Back last year I made a post where the good ole Bookie made a post summing up all of the good books that were coming out that year. Now, I’m here to bring it again, and now you won’t have to wait for most of the novels–they will most likely already be out, and I want to introduce my comrades to some new books. So for now, enjoy this delicious smoothie of chopped, crunched, and blended book-world news of what’s cooking this year.
I’m a huge fan of fast-paced sci-fi thriller novels like Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard so I think I’d dig this one. This one came out back in February, so it’s gotten lots of time to sink into the mainstream quicksand. You could call this the novelization of Inception if you wanted to, but the latest novel from young adult author Kiersten White really messes with your mind. Mind Games (or Sister Assassin for non-Americans) is a fast-paced psychological thriller starring Fia, whose first impulse to go with her gut is always correct. Annie, Fia’s sister, is sightless to her surrounding world–she only opens her eyes when her mind whizzes with odd visions of the future. The two sisters are taken into a school that uses superhuman females as weapons of corporate espionage, where they must decide repeatedly to use their strange abilities in horrific ways or to risk their lives and fight the system–no matter what the cost.
Young-adult authors might remember Kiersten White as the author of Paranormalcy, an urban fantasy trilogy that introduced her to the world of books and turned her into a NY Times bestselling author. The final novel, Endlessly (how ironic), concluded the saga last year and White is currently making plans for a Paranormalcy film. MTV Music Video Award-winning director Ray Kay is set to direct the movie.
The book received mixed reviews. High praise was given for its spy-fi elements and well-suited ending, but high criticism was given for pretty much everything else, most notably the plain characterization.
Speaking of sci-fi thriller, that brings us to our next novel which came out back in March. In the writing debut of Debra Driza, Mila 2.0, the titular character lives with her mom in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her harrowing past of being created in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do the humanly impossible. But when Mila discovers her shocking secret, she must flee. Flee from the dangerous operatives who want her dead because she knows too much. Flee from the mysterious group that wants to capture her and unlock her tech. But Mila’s hidden powers will surprise you (and her), and they might just save her life. Her artificially intelligent life.
Mila 2.0 is just the start. Driza plans on making two more books starring Mila to form a Mila 2.0 trilogy. Goodreads described the book as “the first book in a Bourne Identity-style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human.” They recommended the novel for fans of I Am Number Four, and said that the book’s gripping ending would pave the way for Mila’s second adventure and have readers hungry for more. I guess there really was more to Mila than met my eyes.
The book received generally positive reviews. Its fast-paced action and heart-racing adrenaline rushes were lauded, but its romance overemphasis and lack of emotional connections were noted as something that could’ve been finessed.
Take Timmy Failure, the clueless and confident CEO of the best detective agency in the
nation town. Throw in his partner, an imaginary friend in the form of a polar bear named Total. Throw in Timmy’s mom’s Segway the Failuremobile, and what you have is Total Failure Incorporated, a global enterprise designed to make Timmy wealthy enough to prevent his mom from stressing over bills. But of course, his plan does not include the 4′-tall lady who we shall call She Who Must Not Be Named. Nor does it include Rollo Tookus, who cannot carry out a super-easy spy mission due to his obsession with getting into “Stanfurd”. Stephan Pastis makes a stunning and charming departure from Pearls Before Swine with Timmy Failure: Mistakes Are Made, “the kids’ comedy of the year”. Here are a couple notable blurbs that would look great on the back of the book:
“Timmy Failure is a winner!” – Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid
“Seldom has failure been so likable–or funny.” – Wall Street Journal
“…a great story starring an unforgettable protagonist whose unorthodox approach to detective work (and world domination) will have readers in stitches.” – Lincoln Peirce, author of Big Nate
“Readers should be simultaneously amused and touched by this quirky antihero.” – Booklist
“Pastis has assembled an eccentric and funny cast (running gags revolve around Total’s voracious appetite and a librarian who looks like one of the Hell’s Angels), yet there are also touching interactions to be found…” – Publishers Weekly
Timmy Failure received generally positive reviews. Its well-written humor and charm factors were positively recognized by critics, but some flat characterization and peculiar usage of archaic references were also dissected.
You may recognize Marissa Meyer as the unique author of the sci-fi romance novel Cinder (the start of the Lunar Chronicles), which was one of Indie-Bound’s Kids Next List picks for last winter. But the story of our favorite cyborg heroine is not yet over, as her story continues into Scarlet, the thrilling sequel which came out in February. Now after discovering a shocking secret, Cindy’s trying to break out of the clutches of prison in New Beijing (this was after World War IV), but she’ll be the most-wanted fugitive of the Commonwealth even if she succeeds. Halfway around the Earth, Scarlet Benoit has a missing grandma. It turns out there’s a lot Scarlet doesn’t know about Grandma B, nor of the grim danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet meets a street fighter named Wolf who may or may not have the whereabouts of Scarlet’s grandma, she is reluctant to believe Wolf. However, the two are drawn together in some sort of relationship. After Scarlet and Wolf solve one mystery, they run into another when they come across Cindy herself. Now this misfit trio must stay one step ahead Queen Levana, female ruler of the moon colony Luna. That introduces the book’s side plot, where she is attempting to make Kai (the prince of New Beijing) give into his pressures of marrying Levana or evoking a World War V.
In spite of its slow start, the novel received critical acclaim for its deep and complex story, a shrewd and surprising backstory, and impeccable fairy-tale weaving that made it impossible for most people to put Scarlet down. People are still coming up with ideas of how the brand new characters could play vital roles in the final half of the four-part Lunar Chronicles.
Jessica Brody began writing and “publishing” novels at the age of seven, using materials like cardboard and electrical tape to turn her into an amateur bookbinder. She is no stranger to the world of young adult books–she’s written three already–but this story is her most stellar and unorthodox departure yet. In Unremembered, the beginning of Brody’s new sci-fi saga, a flight courtesy of Freedom Airlines ends horribly and unexpectedly with a crash over the Pacific. No one ever suspected to find survivors among the wreck, and that’s why the sole survivor of the crash has made global headlines. That survivor was 16-year old Seraphina. However, her body shows no signs of the crash, but here’s the kicker–she doesn’t remember boarding the plane. In fact, she doesn’t remember anything before the crash, let alone at all. No one knows why she wasn’t on the passenger manifest, nor can anyone locate her DNA or fingerprints in a single database on Earth. As this astray amnesiac attempts to piece together her empty past, befuddled by a world she doesn’t know and an ominous threat she can’t remember, she discovers an odd boy who claims to have known her before the crash. A boy who claims they were in a relationship. Sera must decide whether or not this boy can be trusted, and if he can protect her from those who have been making her forget.
It turns out you really can’t judge a book by the cover, as Unremembered turned out with very mixed reception. People praised it for having the elements of a sci-fi gem, but criticized it for being an orthodox story that brought nothing unique to the action-thriller genre, and how its intellectual properties (planning and thoughts) were in over their heads. Oh, and it came out in March.
If you’re like me, you’re very familiar with the fantasy subgenre of “fractured fairy tale”. These kinds of books put twists on classic fairy tales and mend interesting and unexpected worlds around them, taking the original stories to whole ‘nother levels. Examples include Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, and Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm/In A Glass Grimmly. Coincidentally, this story was made for fans of those books. Now rising fantasy star Liesl Shurtliff has given a twist on a classic Grimm story: Rump. This came out just a couple of weeks ago, so it’s probably ankle-deep in the mainstream quicksand. Now, Rump isn’t just short for Rumpelstiltskin–in a magic kingdom where names are destinies, he literally is the rump of everyone’s jokes. But his luck changes when he finds an archaic spinning wheel–he discovers he can spin straw into gold. His best friend whom we’ll call Red (hint hint) warns him of the magic’s darkest dangers, and she’s right. With each spun thread, Rump obliviously weaves himself deeper and deeper into a curse. To break the curse, he must go on a dangerous quest and fight off pixies, trolls, poisonous apples, and a maliciously foolish queen.
Rump got positive reception for having the fun side that most stories fail to have, full of delightful adventures and hidden messages such as greed and friendship.
From the look of this cover, you may already tell this has something to do with sci-fi. Well, if you guessed that, you’re right. This is indeed a sci-fi story called Pulse from the author of Skeleton Creek, which came out in February. 38 years from now, the world is still recognizable. No world wars, no apocalypse, no Republics or Capitols–I’m assuming. Well, the country has been split into two “super States” (what.), and protagonist Faith Daniels attends what is little more than a teenage daycare. In the future, select teens have “pulses” which grant them with the power to move things with their minds. In other words, they’re telekinetic. Faith discovers that she has a pulse with the help of a mysterious classmate named Dylan. Faith uses her powers against telekinetic masters so powerful they could pancake their enemies using uprooted street lights and shifted boulders. But even with a pulse, the mind can be hard to control. So can the heart. If Faith and Dylan want to combine forces and save the world of the future, she must harness both and discover that real power comes from within.
Reception for Pulse was mixed to negative. Its unexplained future was heavily panned alongside its conspicuous lack of action-packed adventure, plus its underwhelming characters and relationships and a greatly deceiving synopsis. In fact, here’s how one Goodreads user put it: “…almost non-existent adventure (unless you consider moving cups with your mind adventure), poor and mostly unlikable and under-developed characters and extremely unhealthy relationships.” Wow, is a story about telekinesis and saving the world that bad?
Also, the finale for Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning Seeds of America trilogy (started by Chains and continued by Forge) is forthcoming. It’s going to be called Ashes, and the plot is as of now unknown. The book may be releasing this year as opposed to 2014, but I guess we need to stay tuned for those news.
Ah, finally. We’ve saved the best for last. People who mowed through the Hunger Games trilogy and were starving for more turned Veronica Roth’s Divergent into an award-winning NY Times bestseller. When the book’s sequel Insurgent came out, people turned that into yet another award-winning bestseller. The two books became so successful that Roth is currently planning for a Divergent movie! (Check her Twotter feed to stay tuned. Yeah, I did that on purpose.) But now, after months of theories and guesses, Roth’s epic finale to her trilogy is coming this October–Allegiant. Yeah, Roth sarcastically gave the book the name of Detergent, but some people thought it was called Convergent, and that’s how this came up:
Anyway, check out Amazon’s and Goodreads’ summary to the explosive end to Roth’s smashing saga. (Oh, like my amazing alliteration?)
What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?
The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth’s #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.
Stay tuned and stay hungry for Allegiant when it hits stores October 22. But for now, here’s a link to Roth’s Twotter:
That was fun! If you plan on reading any of my recommended books, post it in the comments below. Make sure to subscribe if you’re new, and don’t forget–press the like button. Now just stay tuned until next time to get more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!
Stay classy America,
Video of the Week: If you’ve stuck with me long enough, you probably know who Nick Bertke is. He’s the greatest mixer of all time, that’s who he is. He goes under the stage name Pogo (his channel’s called “Fagottron”), and although he has less than 250,000 subs, his videos have gotten millions of hits and millions of fans for his unique remixes of movies and TV shows. His best works include remixes of Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs. Today’s video of the week is a Pogo remix from two years ago with nearly 750,000 hits. It’s a remix of HR Pufnstuf. If you don’t know what that is, sit back and enjoy this lesson.
Back in the 60s, there were these people named Sid & Marty Krofft. They made a show called HR Pufnstuf, which ran in 1969 on NBC. Yes, I said NBC. However, the show was so successful it stayed on the Saturday morning schedule until 1972. The show’s about a boy named Jimmy who takes his magic flute named Freddy and rides a boat to Living Island, where everything from clocks to houses are anthropomorphic. The island’s mayor is a dragon whom is the title character of the show, who takes Jimmy in to protect him from the show’s antagonist Witchiepoo. In a nutshell, it’s basically a psychedelic Sesame Street.
Because I love you guys so much, here’s the Bonus Video of the Week. It’s another Pogo remix, but you should be able to tell what got remixed from the name of the video.
I’ve already reviewed the first two novels in James Patterson’s bestselling Middle School series starring young troublemaker Rafe Khatchadorian. Now for some “I-don’t-mean-to-brag-but” fun facts. For his work, Patterson became the 2010 Children’s Choice Book Awards Author of the Year, and he received more than than 15,000 votes in a category shared with fellow middle-grade authors like Carl Hiaasen and Rick Riordan. His Witch & Wizard series was introduced to the biggest launch of a young-reader series in history, surpassing sales of the first Twilight, the first Wimpy Kid, and The Lightning Thief. Last year JP sold more books than Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and John Grisham combined. He’s grossed over $3 billion in global sales, which is higher than the theatrical gross of Avatar–and that’s the highest-grossing movie ever! But Patterson stayed humble with his achievements, and last December–a mere two weeks before Christmas Eve 2012–he decided to shake things up. He released a brand new realistic fiction story that didn’t star Rafe. Yep, he incorporated an entirely new universe and one of the most unique plots I’ve ever seen. JP’s new book is totally funny–in fact, it’s so funny it even has it in the name.
What I consider to be the spiritual successor to JP’s Middle School series, I Funny is a unique story by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, who he also worked with for Armageddon, a novel in JP’s Daniel X series. This book centers on Jamie Grimm, a young lad about Rafe’s age who lives in Long Island, CA–more specifically, at Long Beach. He is an aspiring stand-up comic who’s been studying the techniques of classic comedians from Homer Simpson to George Carlin and probably every comic in between. His uncle Frankie runs a local diner (kind of like Swifty’s Diner, the place Rafe’s mom works), and he has a few pals at school–Pierce, Gaynor, Gilda, and Suzie (aka “Cool Girl”). But however, just like Rafe’s relationship with Miller the Killer, Jamie’s got a big bully on his back–Stevie Kosgrov, Long Beach’s bully of the year 3 years straight. However, what’s worse about Stevie is that he’s–er, for the sake of spoilers, I’ll just skip that one.
Anyway, Jamie lives with his adoptive family which he dubbed “the Smileys”–ironically, they haven’t cracked a grin in who knows how long. This is a perfect audience for Jamie’s jokes, because if he can get them to laugh, he can get anyone to. In fact, he tries out his jokes on everyone from his classmates to the customers at Frankie’s diner! Jamie has hopes of entering and maybe even winning the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic contest. But when he goes up in front of an audience for the first time, the following events change his life forever–the most essential being meeting the girl of his dreams. Also, what makes Jamie such a character to root for is that he can’t walk, and takes his wheelchair everywhere he goes. Now, who can’t feel sympathy for that?
PRESENTATION: I Funny delivers an ingenious balance of humor and drama, the same mix that made Rafe’s first adventure a real home run. However, what makes this mix a bit more unique is that the humor and drama come in bundles, the humor is more genuine and easy to “get” (although some readers who are familiar with the comics may know some of the jokes). The drama is raw and emotional, and a few times in the story my inner self actually cried. Rarely in a book do I cry while reading it. Albeit Laura Park, JP’s long-time illustrator, draws the detailed pictures of the story, she gives I Funny its own special something, making pictures look more polished and realistic. (10/10)
STORY: Jamie tells his story with realism and cracks some jokes or introduces some scenic situations that actually make a story a bit “mushy”, just like Rafe would. However, aside from humor and drama, Jamie tells a very down-to-earth story that incorporates real-life things like bullying, friendship, a first love, and broken hearts. Jamie is a character most readers would root for, especially after all you see him go through in the book. Connections between characters are strong as well. However, there’s one thing that won’t make me give I Funny a perfect score in this category–Jamie uses Rafe’s same “fake reality” techniques to try and zest up the story. In this case, Jamie believes that most of the Long Beach community is made up of zombies, but they are shown to be more funny than freaky. The book feels a lot like Rafe had helped Jamie write it–for better and for worse. (9/10)
FUN: It’s entertaining to watch Jamie spin his tale in a way that tons of authors have done, but it’s still nonetheless very unique. It’s intriguing to picture the events that occur in the book from the factual to the fictional, and the vivid imagery–if you saw my last JGB 2.0, you’d know that was almost the exact same stanza I used for Rafe’s second adventure. I Funny and Get Me Out of Here share lots of the same jokes, sequences, and connections, which says something if JP wanted this book to stand out more. However, this book does lots of media referencing–comics like Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Yakov Smirnoff, Steve Martin, Steven Wright, and Kevin James. Speaking of Kevin James, Jamie also references his star role in Paul Blart: Mall Cop several times. References to KGB, acme (a staple in 20th century comedy like Looney Tunes), Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Penn Station, The Brady Bunch, Harry Potter, and much more. Hey–I think all that referencing just won this book its half of a point back. (10/10)
STYLE: Time for some restating. The humor and drama come in bundles, the humor is more genuine and easy to “get” (although some readers who are familiar with the comics may know some of the jokes). The drama is raw and emotional, and a few times in the story my inner self actually cried. Rarely in a book do I cry while reading it. Albeit Laura Park, JP’s long-time illustrator, draws the detailed pictures of the story, she gives I Funny its own special something, making pictures look more polished and realistic. (10/10)
QUANTITY/QUALITY: I Funny has a great story to tell, and it took 69 chapters to tell it! In fact, the book begins with Jamie choking onstage (forgetting his setups and such), and then it flashes back a while. JP managed to tell enough story and pack in enough element, characterization and such, to meet up to that point in the book, which actually doesn’t come until very late. It’s great how you get to know people like Pierce, Gaynor, Gilda, and Cool Girl, and how they interact with Jamie. How their relationship with him changes as the book progresses and you begin to relate to Jamie more. This is the kind of feeling that I got when I reached the dramatic climax of Middle School, Worst Years of My Life where everything kinda reached its summit. (10/10)
FINAL VERDICT: I Funny packs the same wallops of humor and drama that Rafe would, but the humor is more authentic and the drama is more raw and tearjerking–never has Patterson told such a dynamic story that has the powerful plot lines that really make this the third hit of JP’s threepeat. (10/10)
FINAL SCORE: 59 out of 60 –> 98% –> A+
Check out some vids from JP’s official YouTube channel!
Ah, what a day. Well, make sure to tune in next week for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!
Stay classy America,
Videos of the Week: Check out these mind-blowing Nick mixes from my ole buddy Nick Bertke, aka “Pogo”. For y’all who don’t know who he is, he is literally the greatest mashup artist on Earth. He’s made groundbreaking remixes of Harry Potter, Dexter, Up, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the list goes on folks. Tragically, last Thursday Nick put up a 3-minute video explaining how and why he is no longer allowed to enter the USA for the next decade. I mean, the poor lad got sent to the big house for 3 weeks! Never would I think of Pogo as an inmate. Anyway, here’s the video…
…and to cheer you up, here are two amazing Pogo mixes you can jam to. The first one is an iCarly remix, made in honor of the series ending after five years of being one of Nick’s greatest hits. The music in the mix ranges from all of the show’s seasons, and you may be able to pick out some episodes. The second one is a SpongeBob remix, which also ranges from all of the show’s seasons, and you may also be able to pick out some episodes. ENJOY!
Menacing 8th graders who embark in daily manhunts for fresh cold cuts. 7th graders who are just as threatening just to get vengeance to what happened to them as 6th graders. And then are the real 6th graders who have to have their innocent bodies, minds, and souls mangled day after day. At least, that’s how most people think of middle school. Especially the protagonist of today’s book. The actual Google Dictionary definition of a middle school itself “a school intermediate between an elementary school and a high school, typically for children in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades”. A fearful environment for the squeamish and scared, but an interesting and rather intriguing environment for the brave and bold. And the main character of this story has just gotten his rank as the eldest knocked back down to the youngest. And even in school years it’s hard to climb that ladder.
Likely if you broke a rule or two in elementary school, you were likely punished through the step system, from assertive reminders to expulsion, although this was rarely common. However, in middle school that’s completely common–in fact, according to my school’s code of conduct, any form of assault, arson, illegal substance transferring or selling (aka drug dealing), sexual harassment, and vandalism are just some of the ways that you could get a one-way ticket to Expelville! But in this school, the only way to follow the rules…are to break them. In Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life by James Patterson, also the author of Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard, Patterson finally takes the route of a realistic fiction story in his most innovative concept yet. Well, you may be considering this ironic, but wouldn’t you find normality innovative when you write about kids with wings and magical powers? Anyway, the story revolves around Rafael “Rafe” Khatchadorian, a young kid who’s just been enrolled in Hills Valley Middle School, the former site of what Rafe believes was a prison for Pilgrims and is now a prison for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. (By the way, Khatchadorian is pronounced “Catch a door, Ian!”) But much like in series like Wimpy Kid and Big Nate Rafe finds himself trouble in the first few days of mid school. First off, he becomes the new victim of Miller the Killer, he has to face “Dragon Lady” Donatello every single day, and then there’s Jeanne Galletta whom is Rafe’s second-closest thing on the lines of a friend. Only behind his partner-in-crime, Leonardo the Silent. And he already has enough problems at home; there’s his “grizzly” stepfather Bear (his real name’s Carl), his tattletale sister Georgia, and then there’s his mom. There’s nothing wrong with Mrs. Khatchadorian, it’s just that she has to do all the work while Bear just catches up on football pregame shows. But there’s one way that Rafe discovered that will truly make his mark in HVMS history–making a little project known as Operation RAFE (short for Rules Aren’t For Everyone) and breaking every rule in Hills Valley’s despotic code of conduct before he loses his “three lives”:
- Talking in class – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Running in the hall – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Tardy for class – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Gum in class – 5,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- No electronics – 7,500 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Fighting – 25,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Skipping class – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Minor dress code defying – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Major dress code defying – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- Cussing – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- School property destruction – 35,000 points with witnesses required only afterward.
- Messing with fire alarms – 50,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
- School property theft – 40,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
And then there are the bonus points available…
- Jeanne sees it – 5,000-infinite points
- Sent to vice principal’s office – 20,000 points
- Sent to actual principal’s office – 30,000 points
- Detention – 50,000 points
- Talking way out of principal’s/VP’s office or detention – 100,000 points!!!
Now Middle School, The Worst Years Of My Life is actually one of the greatest school stories I’ve ever read. It does something that neither Wimpy Kid nor Big Nate nor Dork Diaries nor [insert school story series here] can do. It mixes thorough, fleshed comedy with sincere, heart melting drama. Because the deal with the series I mentioned is that it focuses too much on how good its jokes are than paying attention to its heart. Patterson is clearly a unique writer as he actually manages to give us those pangs that make us feel like we’re on the verge of tears, and he creates Rafe to greatly exemplify this. However, the book’s only fatal flaw is its jagged transitions between home and school scenarios, but it is something that will go over most readers’ heads. As for the book’s own comedy, it is just as incomparable as its drama. With hundreds of illustrations to go with or display gut-busting humor, the story makes a joke out of middle school in a way that is rare for most favored kids’ authors. And add up all this together, and you get a book that you can’t find around the corner. Chart, please.
4 1/2 out of 5 – Positive messages – Rafe has a hard life at both school and at home, but he never loses his prospect that one day he will be of great value. Leo is a good character that both helps Rafe with his plot and becomes the assertive head of it. This shows that sometimes you need to put certain people in their place, and you can’t merely give everybody the same exact perspective. At the story’s epic climax, Rafe also discovers that some people aren’t who they seem to be, and in their true form they can have unexpected abilities. Not that I’m saying they have powers. Operation RAFE also dictates that sometimes you have to be bold and stand up for yourself, even if it means some repercussions.
4 out of 5 – Positive role models – Despite Rafe’s image throughout the book as a rule-breaking and rebellious troublemaker, Rafe is an endearing, trustworthy, heartfelt, compassionate, and kind character outside of Operation RAFE–even towards annoying little Georgia. Despite not saying much, Leo is also a good character that serves as a good companion to Rafe and his scheme. Even Bear himself, one the book’s main “antagonists”, shows care and lookout whenever danger or injury is present. Jeanne is a nice girl who likes to say things to people without directly offending them, and she is also a very willing character in the story.
4 out of 5 – Ease of read – Middle School is definitely one of those school stories that makes it mark in my mind and my heart, being able to mix its unique senses of comedy with perfectly sincere drama and heartfelt moments, and with the character that it puts in, this book is easily one of the best realistic fiction novels I’ve ever read. Definitely a recommendation as some sort of survival guide to middle schoolers or soon-to-be middle schoolers. However, the book’s big transition flaw does take away a lot from it.
4 1/2 out of 5 – Violence – Miller the Killer and Bear definitely provide the two biggest sources of violence in the story. Miller frequently pushes, pummels, and picks on Rafe throughout the story, even going as far as to rob him of his Operation RAFE notebook! An illustration in the story depicts Miller towering over Rafe, whom is seen as “dead meat”. In the same illustration, Miller sports a bloody knife tattoo on most of his forearm. Rafe describes his relationship with Miller as “[selling his] soul to the school bully, one dollar at a time” since Miller had been forcing cash out of Rafe to give him back the notebook a page at a time. One dollar’s worth one page, if you didn’t already calculate. Bear is even ruder to Rafe acting as his own at-home Miller, frequently criticizing and yelling at the rest of the family. In pictures Bear is depicted as a live bear in “hibernation” on the couch. In the book’s tearjerking climax–spoiler alert!–Bear gets into yet another heated argument with Mrs. Khatchadorian, but goes far enough to shove her down the house’s front steps, hurting her wrist and likely breaking her heart. At this point, Rafe decides to jump in and save the day by yelling in Bear’s face. Bear eventually winds up in the back of a police cruiser, but is not arrested. Later near the book’s finale, Mrs. Khatchadorian reminisces a sad memory about how Rafe had actually had a brother back in the day, but a bad case of meningitis claimed him at a young age. (Kinda like how my brother got malaria as a kid–or so my dad says–but he’s still alive now, healthier than ever. My brother, I mean. My dad’s alive, too.) ***Spoiler alert ends here.*** Georgia and Rafe also get in heated arguments, mainly concerning Rafe’s school rebellion. A rather far-fetched illustration also shows Rafe’s bedroom, which appears to be a ragged and torn-apart place with liquid dripping from the ceiling and a raccoon as his “roommate”. In the picture, he is conversing with a rat about what fraction of a blanket he received. Rafe is wearing his blanket half like a straitjacket, and he seems very deranged and insane. Many illustrations depict Rafe’s teachers as demonic, monstrous, and vile creatures, most notoriously “Dragon Lady” Donatello, whom Rafe uses to make stories of him as a knight facing off against this “dragon”.
1 1/2 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Rafe has a crush on Jeanne throughout the story, whom happens to be HVMS’s most popular female student. One of the rules Rafe breaks in the dress code is the clothes-size rule, and he breaks it (on Halloween, matter of fact) by showing up to school sagging. Georgia later references this as Rafe being “naked” at school.
2 out of 5 – Product Placement – One of the most centric elements of the story is an energy drink known as Zoom, which Rafe describes as “chocolate and Coke mixed together, and it has about eight cups of caffeine in every can”. As part of Operation RAFE, Rafe eats a Snickers bar in the school library.
1 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – Bear is a heavy drinker of Zoom and keeps a stash of it in the garage, which Rafe secretly steals from and sells to students at school like drugs, to make savings to pay back Miller.
Entertainment: A+ (5 points)
Fun: A+ (5 points)
Smarts: A (4 points)
Style: A+ (5 points)
Read-Again Ratio: A (4 points)
Humor: A+ (5 points)
CONSENSUS: Middle School, The Worst Years Of My Life has the unique sense of comedy and sincere drama that makes for one of the greatest realistic fiction titles of all time, showing both the upsides and downsides of middle school in Patterson’s own memorable and innovative way. Also for good use as a survival guide to middle school itself.
PRICE: On Amazon, the book costs $8 regular, $4 used, and $3.44 new. The Kindle edition costs $6. For those who say that hearing > reading, the unabridged audiobook version costs $10 regular, $6.23 used, and $5 new. At B&N, the book costs the same $8 regular, $5 used, and $4.49 new. The Nook Book edition is free. Does that help?
Subscribe, like, rate, comment, share, Press This, reblog, and stay tuned for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!
Stay classy America,
Video of the Week: Now I know all this likely took a lot of effort to read through, so here’s some relaxing music to help you regather your cerebral elements and chill out for a bit. By the way, this song is called “Gentle Breeze” by Manabu Namiki, and it’s from the OST for Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2. (It’s a 2008 medical sim game for the Nintendo DS.) This video, since its release in summer 2009, has over 80,000 hits with almost a thousand likes. Eh, I’d rather not keep rambling about the video–after all, it’s supposed to be chill-out music.
Now, if you read my first news update post, you’d likely see this coming. If not, then it’s either one of several options: A) You’re not an in-the-flesh Sammwak subscriber, B) You’re one of those people who have on/off subscriptions, C) You likely leafed through the post and ignored all the vital detail down to the jump, and/or D) You don’t have the most elaborate memory around. But either way, come one, come all, because one size fits all of you right? Anyway, you may have seen my review for Hugo Cabret back at 2S2M, and although I won’t spoil the results to novice viewers, it was probably a book I’ll never forget. And when I found Wonderstruck in a story that you’re gonna have to find in the news update, I was immediately hooked after further research. And it’s all led me to this tiny wrinkle in time–a review that’s hopefully as groundbreaking as the book itself.
What I consider to be the spiritual successor of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck is probably one of the most clever titles Brian Selznick’s worked on as a solo artist. Well, considering this is his fifth one. Anyway, what makes Wonderstruck unique from Hugo Cabret is that–besides it being 75 pages longer, and contending for both a Newbery and Caldecott–it doesn’t just revolve around one storyline–it intertwines two. One story takes place at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in summer 1977, revolving around Ben Wilson, a young partly-deaf boy that’s just shaken off the death of his mother/the town librarian. He now lives with his aunt and uncle near the house he grew up in, and is now trying to solve the mystery of his father’s identity. You see, Ben never really knew his dad, but feels a pull to uncover him. Ben discovers a bookmark in one of his mom’s books–coincidentally titled Wonderstruck–and finds an inscribing dedicated to his mother ending with “Love, Danny”. Believing that this Danny is the Mr. Wilson, Ben attempts to call the number on the bookmark–just as lightning hits his house and travels through the phone line to his good ear. Now 100% deaf, Ben flees from his hospital and to NYC, meeting a girl named Jamie at the American Museum of Natural History. She claims to be a worker’s daughter as well, and gives him a short tour and smuggles him in a storage room. Despite Jamie’s compassion, Ben decides to keep pursuing the mystery of his father, and on the way he meets Rose. Just to inform you, this story is told entirely in words, like a regular book would.
Rose’s story, however, takes place fifty years before this in fall 1927, and is told entirely in pictures. In Hoboken, New Jersey, Rose is kept in her home with frequent visits from a tutor. No, she isn’t falling behind in school–coincidentally, she too is deaf. Unsatisfied with her life, she runs off to–you guessed it–NYC, to see her idol Lillian Mayhew. (She’s fictitious, just to set the record.) At the theater where Lillian is performing, Rose sneaks in but quickly loses her stealth as she is caught by Lillian. This is when the first twist of the story is revealed–Rose is actually Lillian’s daughter. Conversing through writing, Lillian threatens to send Rose back to her dad, so she continues to flee. This time she goes to–you guessed it again–the American Museum of Natural History! She is found by one of the workers, named Walter, who is actually her brother, whom promises to speak with her parents at his apartment. At this point, Rose’s story flash-forwards fifty years into the future, so she is now an old woman entering a 1977 bookstore. At this point, Ben and Rose finally meet. A very shocking twist is revealed at this point, but I’ll save that until you read the book…
Wonderstruck is a very brilliantly executed, charming, imaginative, and truly magical Selznick title, making the best use of Selznick’s eye-popping illustration I’ve seen to date. It was one of my most engrossing and impressive reads of the month, that does a surprising job of keeping us rooting for Ben and Rose. But although it didn’t show as much flourish and flair as Hugo–and it went by very quickly without letting much details soak in–but Wonderstruck is probably one of the best books I’ve seen from Selznick to date. Chart, please.
4 out of 5 – Educational value – As a good chunk of the book happens at the American Museum of Natural History, but for many other reasons as well, Wonderstruck sparks engaging wonders for exploring places and things from NYC to the nearest few natural history museums to the deaf culture. (A) That does exist, and B) That’s why you may have seen the word as “Deaf”.) All these trailheads can lead to your own adventures that can leave you wonderstruck.
5 out of 5 – Positive messages – Wonderstruck has one major message that is greatly emphasized through the book: blood is thicker than water. What this means is the family bond outdoes any other bond, and the book teaches us about family and friendship, plus its endurance through time and space. The adventures Rose and Ben embark on after becoming runaways are profitably more than what an average-minded youngen would imagine today. And Brian Selznick greatly culminates the message with the grand twist near the end of the book…
1 out of 5 – Positive role models – Like in the positive message section, Wonderstruck exemplifies loving family and true friends, and shows how a strong-enough bond can overcome any difficulty, danger, or trial. While Ben and Rose show relations to many of these gallant figures–Rose’s brother Walter (“an especially shining example”, according to Common Sense), Ben’s late mother (“just the parent [Ben] needed”, according to Common Sense), among others–they themselves show devotion to everyone who is crucial to them. Their journeys to define themselves and where they belong on Earth also flares their wisdom, tenacity, and focus–which, coincidentally, is the name of Vanilla Ice’s latest album.
4 out of 5 – Ease of read – Wonderstruck is a great spiritual successor to Hugo, using the same magical talents, eye-popping and rather well-accompanying visuals, and heartfelt storyline and effects that made it a Caldecott-winning hit. What separates Wonderstruck so much from its spiritual predecessor is that it seemed to slip on a banana peel many books have slipped on–going by without letting details soak in, and having a truly rough time juggling its elements. The illustrations may make you say otherwise, but in actuality it’s a struggle. Overall, a great book for those who adored Hugo.
2 out of 5 – Violence – It happens rather suddenly when Ben is “struck by lightning” and loses his remaining hearing. Rose also sees a silent film, with the book primarily capturing the essence of a storm scene, and this is greatly and ominously intertwined with Ben’s story. Ben also has his money robbed nearly as soon as he arrives as well. Not much violence, otherwise–also another contrast from Hugo.
1 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Rose’s mom–again, Lillian Mayhew–is a scandalous 1920’s figure, having divorced her husband for a young actor named Percy. Ben was the final result of a short canoodling between his mother and a museum curator. Like Hugo, not much here either.
1 out of 5 – Product Placement – Wonderstruck is rooted from Selznick’s Caldecott-winning 2008 classic Hugo Cabret, but no consumerism is depicted otherwise–save for one picture. This picture depicted the bustling nightlife-filled streets of NYC, and brands like Chevrolet are clearly visible among all the lights.
1 3/4 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – Like Hugo, this section’s a bit of an iffy. In one scenario, Ben finds his teenage cousin Janet wearing his mom’s clothes and smoking cigarettes. Ben’s mother herself had smoked before she died. I wonder why…
Entertainment: A+ (5 points)
Fun: A+ (5 points)
Smarts: A (4 points)
Style: A+ (5 points)
Read-Again Ratio: B+ (3.5 points)
Humor: B (3 points)
FINAL SCORE: 25.5 out of 30 (I guess Hugo was better :(), 5 stars out of 5, 85% out of 100%
CONSENSUS: It may not have as much flair and magic as its predecessor Hugo Cabret, and it goes by quickly without taking the time to let details soak in, but Wonderstruck is a greatly impressive and engrossing novel with the same eye-popping visuals, unlikely and surprising entertainment, and everlasting comfort that all of Selznick’s books have.
PRICE: On hardcover, the book costs $17 on Amazon. New copies are $11, and 42 are $13. Savings? 42%. The fabled unknown binding of the book costs $44 for a new copy, and just $42 for a used. Savings? It doesn’t say, but I can infer it’s puny. At Barnes & Noble, Wonderstruck costs the same $17 (with the same wee savings), but the marketplace version costs $12 with 59% savings. How about that to leave you wonderstruck? And for the people who mistook this Wonderstruck for Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck, don’t worry–I got you covered too. The 3.4.-oz perfume bottle costs $47 on regular mode (hey, beauty doesn’t come cheap ), and if you plan on ordering order fast–there’s a slight chance shipping might be impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The 1.7-oz Eau de Parfum costs $35, the .33-oz roll-on costs $18, and the 6.8-oz gel costs $25. Now you’ll be reading happy and smelling happy!
You know what to do–subscribe, like, comment, reblog, Press This, share, spread, come back next time for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak, blah blah blah. Or should I say, to start off the Thanksgiving season, gobble gobble gobble.
Videos of the Week: Alright, now there are two possible opinions I could state about this video–Tobuscus is doing something with the “Sony PlayStation VIP” campaign, or he’s putting up another one of his little just-for-kicks infomercials. Like the Hot Pockets one. Or was that actually real? Anyway, Toby put this up last Monday and it’s already got over 700,000 hits! Check out this video and comment whether or not you think it’s the real deal. And whether or not you like his sweet house!
And if you want that Hot Pockets one, I got it here for you too. It’s got 1.2 million hits since May this year! That’s pretty darn hot. Not as hot as the Facebook page you’ll likely want to check out after this video: https://www.facebook.com/hotpockets
*blah blah blah blah you already know what’s gonna happen* Spoiler Alert Seal *blah blah*.
There are two very prestigious book awards in America, let alone the globe. One of them is the Newbery Medal, successfully proposed as the first-ever book award in history. The Newbery is only given to books with “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. And this was probably the first award I ever heard of where the losers get awards too–they become Newbery Honor books. First awarded to Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind (1921), the Newbery has clearly been known as an author’s biggest bragging right of their career. But take it too far and you’ll end up playing yourself a mind game. And the 1999 Newbery winner, to be specific, was a book that I believe won as an underdog–Louis Sachar’s Holes. And for any of you who have read the book, you might have believed that the story of Camp Green Lake ended right then and there. Well, you are wrong.
“Small steps, ’cause I don’t know where I’m goin’. Small steps, I just take it day to day. Small steps, somehow get myself together, then maybe I’ll discover who I am along the way…”
Considered the sequel/follow-up to Holes (remember America, Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide was not a main entry–I’m not sure if you can even count it), Small Steps was released in January 2006 and continues the story of the [not-so] happy campers from Camp Green Lake. But this time, the story doesn’t revolve around Stanley–it revolves around two of his comrades. More specifically, Armpit and X-Ray. If you want to know how they got the names, here’s the story: Armpit’s actual name is Theodore, but something horrible happened within the first week at Green Lake. He had suffered a scorpion sting with pain that traveled up his arm and settled in his pit. He made the fatal mistake of complaining about his pit pain, and although the pain eventually disappeared the name stuck. And as for X-Ray–it’s merely his name, Rex, in pig Latin. Now, Armpit was released from camp two years ago, and has finally gotten the time to relax in his home down south in Texas with his disabled 10-year old neighbor Ginny. Y’see, Ginny was born with cerebral palsy. It’s a condition from impaired muscle coordination or equally worrisome disabilities caused by pre-birth/at-birth brain damage. She was actually born with mild brain hemorrhaging. Anyway, Armpit and Ginny are learning to take small steps, and seem to be on the right path until X-Ray steps into the picture. And not only that, but he’s got a fresh-and-off-the-griddle moneymaking scheme. The plan? Ticket scalping for an upcoming concert by pop star Kaira DeLeon. (Don’t Google her, she’s not real. :-?) Also known as selling counterfeit or bootlegged tickets, which is illegal. So now Armpit’s life has just gone out of control, but “only one thing is certain: he’ll never be the same again.” Will Armpit get a brush with his goals, a brush with fame via Kaira, or get a brush with a lot of police brutality–and possibly even death?
Now, Small Steps really surprised me. It was a lot raunchier and mature than your average sequel, definitely invading edgier territories. And I really couldn’t keep track of everything that was happening, forgetting who people are, even blanking out on whole scenarios. But the thing that convinced me that I did myself a good deed was the heart that the book had. It had lots of positive messages and modeling, and to me it had those debonair touches that made for a truly magical read. But I do have to warn you that this book literally is not for the faint of heart; I’m not just saying that because I just reviewed an equally wild book two weeks ago. But in the end, Small Steps wins me over with its hilarity, heart, and horrors, but could adjust a few corks and screws if I ever see another Holes sequel.
4 1/4 out of 5 – Educational value – The book is mainly prosperous on its entertainment factor, but Holes fans will definitely appeal to this sequel and get them thinking about the book’s bigger proposals. And at the end of the book, the storyline is stretched in the Readers Circle add-ons. Questions concerning the book’s plot element, even an interview with Sachar himself.
3 out of 5 – Positive messages – Armpit may not be a choice perfectionist, but ultimately he has the heart to figure things out in time to act on it. The core plot is also very touching with its idea of “small steps” that you can take every day and eventually meet your goal with. X-Ray may technically serve as the antagonist of the book, but he is helpful for his friend as well.
4 out of 5 – Positive role models – Armpit does go with X-Ray’s plan to scalp tickets and then lie to the cops, but he spends most of the following actions allowing himself to rehabilitate, allowing readers to easily root for him. In the end X-Ray does truly regret his plan. Armpit helping Ginny, even taking her leukemia-infected pet to class (as part of an election campaign for some sort of “pet president”) for her, is probably one of the most affectionate and compassionate parts of the book. Armpit shares something short of a relationship with Kaira, but ultimately decides to drop the idea of any further affection due to his connection with his real life.
3 out of 5 – Ease of read – Small Steps is a great Holes sequel, but its sex appeal and moderate violence may be too much for its young diehards to handle. But its real icky, sticky, ooey, gooey center is its big heart and all the positive messages and models that make it up. So I guess you could say people at the faint of heart will have to take “small steps” to gain the courage to read the book.
4 out of 5 – Violence – And a surprising amount at that. One of the most worrisome moments of the book is when Armpit is apprehended by some officers at the Kaira DeLeon concert, playing with the nerves of his arms and pressing his face against the floor. And while all this is happening, Ginny is actually having a seizure. (She later notes this as her body going into “red alert”, based off Kaira’s biggest hit, “Red Alert!”) When Kaira learns about this during a concert break, she refers to X-Ray as “some low-life ticket scalper”. When anyone actually ridicules Ginny for her condition, she always tells them that she had brain hemorrhaging at birth. Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you that Ginny’s the neighborhood laughingstock yet, did I? X-Ray reveals to Armpit that he had made the scalped counterfeit tickets himself. Armpit is
interrogated questioned by Debbie Newberg of the Austin Police Department, forcing him to divert suspicion by making up a fake “part-Iranian” suspect known as Habib. When a student puts up his pig as part of his election campaign, he states that it would bring world peace or else at least everyone would get a ham sandwich, foreshadowing that the pig would kill himself for his people. Armpit also gets in a scuffle with a pair of ticket sellers, only letting him loose if he coughed up a love letter Kaira had written him. This leads to Armpit talking with Kaira in “the Golden Gate city” about having to sell her love letter, so he ends up coffee-splashed when he asks Kaira to write another version for sale. This states that Kaira believes Armpit does not humanly care about her and only likes her for her money. Jerome Paisley (aka “El Genius”, or “Doofus” by Kaira) plans to murder her own stepdaughter/managee and frame Armpit for the kill. This leads to a climactic brawl which results in Armpit receiving a broken arm, Kaira’s bodyguard Fred receiving a tummy stab, and “Genius” behind bars. Kaira then returns to her singing career, albeit she sings very weakly now after taking a hit from Doofus.
3 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Walking towards what she believes is the bathroom, she gets caught by Doofus with her top unbuttoned and open. Armpit and Kaira share a real mouth-to-mouth kiss. X-Ray hoots at a girl wearing a bikini top. At Kaira’s concert, she informs her audience about her virginity. Needless to say, the crowd goes wild. Ginny calls Armpit “pretty pretty”, which is humorous since Ginny is technically calling Pit a girl, since “girls are pretty and boys are handsome”.
2 out of 5 – Language – The moderately salty epithets and expletives of “hell”, “damn”, and “shut up”. When X-Ray hoots at the girl, she responds wordlessly by promptly flipping him off. The “bird” is also mentioned when Kaira tries to guess Armpit’s nickname, and she guesses Finger and believes that he is the middle finger. During a call Kaira jokingly calls Armpit “delusional” over what he thought the lyrics to “Damsel in Distress” went like: “Save me, Armpit! A damsel in distress.”
2 out of 5 – Product Placement – Kaira DeLeon, despite being fictitious, does get a lot of notable mentioning in the book. Some of her songs include “Red Alert!”, “Damsel in Distress”, “Imperfection”, “Small Steps”, and one unofficial song she frequently sings called “Billy Boy” (named after one of her fans). She also works on a song and sings lyrics that call Britney Spears “old and gray”. Small Steps also branches out from the hit novel Holes.
3 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – X-Ray sells parsley like marijuana, Armpit’s parents ask for urine samples believing their son is using drugs, an ex-ball player associated with Kaira takes steroids, band members drink and smoke frequently. Armpit is mainly attacked at the concert since the officers thought that Ginny was having a seizure due to being drugged up by Pit.
Entertainment: A (4 points)
Fun: A (4 points)
Smarts: B+ (3.5 points)
Style: A- (4 points)
Read-Again Ratio: A (4 points)
Humor: A+ (5 points)
FINAL SCORE: 24.5 out of 30 (:-?), 4 stars out of 5, 83% out of 100%
CONSENSUS: Small Steps may have lots of heart and the messages and models that make it up, and the humor and charm you’d expect from Sachar or a similar artist, but it’s the easy stuff like the “oomph” and maturity level that the book slips on.
Small Steps: Great, but not perfect. Anyway, that’s it for a day here at Sammwak! Come back or check your email to see if I’ve made a new post, but for now you know what to do. Subscribe, like, comment, follow me @ G+, Press This, reblog, do anything, and then git outta here.
Stay classy America,
~S~ 😎 (Or M-Say, if you prefer pig Latin. :D)
Video of the Week: Now if you’ve really been keeping track of things the past few weeks, you’ve been laughing your head off at entries from Swoozie’s Cheating in School series. Well, I’ve decided to put the next video on hold, but for now here’s something equally funny. It’s also based off a true story, and since January last year it’s got over 3.2 million hits with over 40k likes, it is Swoozie’s “Confessions of a Disney Employee“. Yup, Adande “Swoozie” Thorne himself worked at MGM. And now you can know what happened in that part of his life, from the Disney snitches all the way to a few rebelliously pulled strings that led to one of the greatest times of his life…