Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Review of The Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie

Larkin Pace wants to be a filmmaker. He also kind of assumes he's the boyfriend of his buddy Brooke, at least until she says those fatal words, "And how about you, Larkin? Have you found a girlfriend yet?"

These words reverberate through Larkin's brain, especially as he observes Brooke getting cozy with the school bully, Dalton Cooke, who spends a certain amount of his free time picking on Larkin.

And that's only one of Larkin's problems. There's the fact that he's on the short side. There's his evil older sister, whom he's dubbed The Beast. There's his friend, Freddie, who barely talks (except to say "Mahz well," which translates as "Might as well"). And there's crotchety Mrs. Grobnik, his new after-school boss—thanks to his mother, who has assigned him to work as the old lady's assistant.

I should point out that this book is illustrated, with a very Diary of a Wimpy Kid feel to it. Only it's not an imitator. Instead, the book's marketing campaign hews to truth in advertising with its slogan, "A book for the wimpy kid who has grown into a wimpy teen." I assure you, Larkin is not Greg Heffley. But he is an excellent if slightly nebbishy teen, and the people that surround him are a colorful cast in their own right.

For example, meet The Beast, AKA Kelly:
Then in stomped Kelly, who plopped her backpack on the chair by the door. Mom was right behind her.

"Kelly, have you had breakfast yet?"

"Yes, Mother. I had ibuprofen."

[Illustration with voice bubble: Kelly is making a bracey face and shaking her fists, eyes shut, as Larkin and his mother look on.] "It's the only thing I can manage because these braces are KILLING ME!"

Kelly was sporting her new look this morning. Lately she's been wearing a plastic thing under her hair that makes it look like there's a little speed bump on top of her head. I think she ordered it from an infomercial.

Which also gives you a glimpse of Larkin's slightly wry voice, one of the charms of this book.

Each section has a header, e.g., "Ten Things I Hate about Being 14," which includes items such as "Even girls are taller than me," "My mom has to drive me everywhere," and oh yes, after the fifth item: "I can't think of five more right now. I'll have to finish the list later." Ha. A few more memorable headers are "Miss Sadie, the Love Doctor," "She Who Must Get Her Way," and "Why Weasel's Library Lady Hates Me." And that's not counting the episode in which Larkin and Freddie sleep over at Freddie's cousin Jason's house in hopes of filming the ghost of a dead cat. Or the one where raccoons invade Kelly's bedroom late at night and Larkin scares them off using an "American Girly" doll.

And you know what? Old lady "Miss Sadie" isn't half bad, especially after she and Larkin get to talking about old movies.

Then there's the way Freddie never actually calls Larkin by name...

Rick Detorie's new book is more subtle than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Larkin is much more likable than Greg (who is funny partly because he has no idea how selfish he is). Larkin's big break doesn't turn out so great and neither does his love life, but the book still ends on a hopeful note. For 11- to 15-year-old boys—and girls—I happily recommend The Accidental Genius of Weasel High.

P.S. You may know Detorie best thanks to his comic strip, One Big Happy, about a six-year-old girl named Ruthie and her family.

Note for Worried Parents: I'd call this a PG. It's for and about teens, but at the younger end of the spectrum, say middle school and early high school. Larkin is interested in girls and makes reference to a hickey at one point, but he never even gets a girl to go out with him except as friends (the topic of a running joke). Pretty mild stuff.

1 comment:

LinWash said...

I love graphic novel-type books. I'll look for this one.