Monday, March 24, 2008

Tough Moves: I Smell Like Ham by Betty Hicks

Still grieving for his mother's death, middle-schooler Nick Kimble throws himself into trying out for the sixth-grade basketball team, a feat which is not made easy by his friend Carson, who always manages to steal the ball when he drives. Still, things are not so bad. Nick gets along with his dad just fine and manages to hold his own with his edgy friends, who are always willing to tease anyone who's vulnerable.

Then Nick's dad remarries and things get touchy at home, too. His new stepmother is all right, and she seems like a good cook until she veers into tofu and something that sounds like "porta-potty burgers." Then, to complicate his social life, she buys organic clove shampoo that makes Nick's hair smell like a glazed ham. But the biggest problem is her dorky, nerdy, wimpy eight-year-old son, Dwayne. It's embarrassing enough when Nick is forced to take Duh-wayne out on Halloween, but when Carson dares the group to smoke cigarettes in his tree house, poor Dwayne pukes all over Nick, and Nick has to suffer through the next day with jokes like "What's up, Chuck?"

But when Carson is grounded for his Halloween pranks, Nick gets the chance to start their team's next game in his place. With his usual bad timing, Dwayne picks that day to run away, and when he figures out where he must be hiding, Nick has to cut the big game to go out and find him. Nick learns that juggling family and team responsibilities is a new version of ball handling harder than he could have imagined.

Betty Hicks finds the right balance of Nick's inner life and his school persona in I Smell Like Ham. Despite its frequent laughs and easy-going guy banter, this is a serious book about learning how to live in a blended family and learning how to make it through the trials of early adolescence.

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