Friday, February 13, 2009

A Walk Down Lonely Street: All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall

Picture a hairstyle that an outdated country-western singer would wear. It was an extra shiny black color. Think jet-black. Or oil-slick black. Or overdid it with Hair Color for Men black. And even worse, he had grown triangle-shaped sideburns down each cheek. They reached almost to the edge of his jaw (I'm being serious). And I swear it looked like maybe there was a little black eyeliner traced under his eyes, and I didn't even want to think about that. Jeez!

Josh Greenwood is used to being a "shared kid," spending a few weeks with his shoe salesman dad in Chicago each year. But when his grandmother's injury requires that his mother fly from Boston to St. Petersburg to care for her, Josh gets shipped off to stay with his dad.

Josh doesn't want to go; his parents separated when he was five, and he's always felt out of place with his haphazard dad in his pizza-box strewn house in Chicago. It's only for four months or so, but Josh dreads trying to fit in in a new middle school after finally making it to the "popular" lunch table back in Boston. More like his ultra-conventional, list-making mother than his always-at-loose-ends dad, Josh arrives to find that his father has lost his regular job and is now an Elvis impersonator--hair, stage makeup, jumpsuit, scarves, and all.

Josh determines to keep a low profile at Lister Middle School and above all to keep his classmates from ever knowing about his dad's job. Then he finds a bright yellow post-it on his locker with the message WELCOME TO LISTER, JOSH GREENWOOD. ELVISLY YOURS. Josh soon learns that the note is from Ivory, the retro-dressing daughter of his dad's girlfriend, and he realizes that keeping his dad's bizarre job a secret from the guys at school is not going to be easy.

Thanks to a well-timed homerun in P.E., as "Boston Dude" Josh gets a lunch seat, albeit at the very end of the table, with the popular jocks at Lister. Just when he thinks he has everything under control, he learns that his dad has been booked to perform his Elvis act at a Fifties concert at his school. Josh realizes that his carefully constructed cover is about to be blown.

I wanted to die. Really, if a bolt of lightning would have come out of the clear blue sky right then, I wouldn't have gotten out of the way. I would have stood there with a big metal pole in my hand and said, just hit me.

In desperation Josh comes up with a plan to make sure that school performance never takes place. Artfully fabricating an official-looking letter inviting his dad to enter an Elvis impersonator contest on the same date with a booking in Las Vegas as the prize, Josh manages to derail his dad's Lister Middle School gig, but he soon realizes that he is going to have to 'fess up to his dad about the letter and to his total discomfort with his dad's life.

Pearsall's All Shook Up avoids the pitfalls of the hapless kid vs. wacky parent stereotype. Josh is an intelligent but sometimes inarticulate kid whose self-protective desire to stay under the radar of his classmates makes it hard to see anyone else's needs and feelings but his own. With the help of some of the unique and skillfully drawn supporting characters in this novel, Josh finally comes to a different view of his father, those non-popular kids at school, and of himself as the shared kid in the middle. There is a lot of humor for the reader here--not cheap, Hollywood flick guffaws, but the chuckles of self-recognition in this well-crafted story of a thirteen-year-old who learns that when life throws some curve balls, he can still hit 'em and get around all the bases.

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  • Thanks for this book. I'm going to get it for my son.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:08 AM  

  • Sounds great, thanks for sharing, when I saw this I just think hyper fast, nephew haha my sister wants he listen spanish because she said that live in latin america it's easier that the us, but I don't know maybe this story change her mind.

    By Anonymous Buy Viagra, at 2:49 PM  

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