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A Wonderful Read for Reluctant Readers (and Constant Readers)
on July 14, 2011
So thoroughly had Charlie Joe convinced me to give up reading there were almost no future reviews. But in the end, I enjoyed Tommy Greenwald's book so much I guess I'll keep searching for another book that makes me laugh as hard.
This is how Charlie Joe Jackson greets us on page one:
If you're reading this book, you don't like reading.
In fact, you do whatever you can to avoid reading, and the fact that you're holding a book in your hand right now is kind of shocking.
From here, Charlie Joe goes on to warn us of the many dangers of reading, such as it makes us fat. In a way, this book is split into two books. One book is a conversation between us and Charlie about why reading sucks and what authors might do to improve it. The second book is the actual story, which is also fun.
Charlie's a likeable enough guy, though he narrates his story with impeccable skill, which is odd considering how much he hates to read:) He's a middle school boy in Eastport, who loves beetles, chocolate, and dogs. He's innovative in a Ferris Bueller kind of way (always likeable), he's considerate of other people (especially, shock, his big sister), and he's popular. It's been a long time since I read a book about a middle school protagonist who doesn't feel alienated from the rest of the population. Charlie's well liked and the "hottest" girl in his grade has a crush on him. It's refreshing to sometimes get to read from the perspective of the sort of character who's usually a jerk and/or villain in so many other books.
Greenwald takes great advantage of the fact that his protagonist is a first person narrator and this is one book I cannot imagine written any other way. Charlie Joe is written quite well in his scenes with other characters. His dialogue is natural enough and his actions appear to be genuinely motivated. But its in the asides and the chapters between the story when Charlie talks directly to the reader that Charlie's true self shines through. For example:
The librarian, Ms. Reedy, was an old friend of mine, even though she represented everything evil.
I actually made up a song for her a couple of years ago when I first saw her in action. "Hurricane Eliza comin' in, the hottest hurricane in town, you'll get blown away when Hurricane Eliza's comin' down." The tune I came up with is pretty catchy, but you can't hear it, because this is a book--another problem with books by the way.
Charlie Joe's quest is to avoid reading at all costs. His conflict is that he is required to research multiple books for a major report and presentation at school, which pretty well determines his grade. Charlie Joe wants to do well in school, but he wants to do it without reading. It's a good set up and the story that follows is fun and very funny. Greenwald expertly navigates the politics of middle school and delivers a good story well told. You can't ask for much more than that.
My favorite piece Charlie Joe Jackson's advice to reading boys is: If you have to read, read about girls. It helps you understand them better. The opposite applies for the ladies, and for the LBGT community, you read whatever you want. At any rate, this idea of getting the inside track on the girls was one of my main motivators to read at Charlie Joe's age and I think it will strike a nerve with reluctant readers. I've read Twilight and sat through at least one episode of True Blood trying to better understand Mrs. Ninja (my comprehension is a work in constant progress).
And that's going to do it. I shall leave you with some more of my favorite passages from Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading:
I've been head over heels for Hannah Spivero since... what's today, Saturday? Let's see... Wednesday... Thursday... Friday...
About seven years.
Middle-school parties are all pretty much the same; cold pizza, soggy cookies, flat soda, deafening music, a couple of kids kissing, a ton of kids pretending not to look but actually staring at the kids kissing, and the little sister of the host constantly coming in and out, supposedly to see if the chips bowl needs refilling, but really just to check out what was going on and report back to the parents that nobody had overdosed on potato chips and was projectile vomiting on the couch.
The place erupted. Chaos. Pandemonium. Anarchy. Bedlam. (Thesaurus.com--check it out.)