Monday, February 21, 2011

Action Figures: Masters of Disaster by Gary Paulsen

"I've called you here today, men, because I have an important announcement. One that will change our lives."

"I am proposing," Henry continued, reading carefully from his notes, "that we Undertake and Implement a Series of Daring Experiences and Grand Adventures the likes of which the history of Western civilization has never seen, at least not from twelve-year-olds in suburban Cleveland."

"Why?" Reed asked, a hint of panic in his voice. "Why are we underwhatsitting and implewhositting?"

"Henry's got spring fever," Riley explained, somewhat dismissively.

"What I have in mind is so much bigger than that," Henry said. "I'm working to create a series of tasks that will Prove Our Manhood and show us What We're Made Of. And if we play our cards right, we just might Alter the Course of History a time or two."

"And, of course, Impress Girls and Get Them to Notice Us."

It's the buddy movie writ small in Gary Paulsen's latest comic guy novel, Masters of Disaster (Wendy Lamb Books, 2010). Henry Mosely is the Swengali, the master planner with the sweeping vision here; Riley is the methodical plotter, the calculator of formulas, the charts and graphs guy, and the amanuensis of awesome adventures, and Reed, who worries about curfews and loss of blood, is the hapless chump who actually is drafted to carry out all Henry's grand schemes.

It's Reed who proves that, yes, it is possible to ride a bike down a steep roof, bounce off the diving board and swimming pool cover and execute a full airborne somersault into a trash can of used disposable diapers--safely. It's Reed who actually loses his pants to one wild beast and encounters a mad elephant, a.k.a., the sinister Boy-Eating, Water-Dwelling Snake Creature of Cleveland (don't ask!) during their survival weekend in the neighborhood woods. And it's Reed, who, attired in a haz-mat suit of Riley's contrivance who experiences the ultimate Dempster-Dive to collect specimens for what in Henry's grand scheme is going to the the science experiment to end all science fairs--and nearly does.

With thrills, spills, gunky garbage, pond scum, dirty diapers, and varieties of doody that all leave poor Reed with a permanent, er, essence, what's not to like here?

The Newbery-winning (for Hatchet: 20th Anniversary Edition) Paulsen, who has written plenty of serious-themed, metaphor-dense, coming-of-age novels in his time, is also the author of drop-dead funny, laugh-out-loud boyhood adventure tales--Lawn Boy,Lawn Boy Returns, How Angel Peterson Got His Name, and Mudshark, to cite a few--and here has a non-stop, tongue-in-cheek, laughfest that will keep even reluctant readers page-turning until the thrilling conclusion, in which even the guys' arch-nemesis, the loutish bully Dwight Hauser, gets his well-deserved comeuppance and the boys manage to Prove Their Manhood and even Impress Girls.

"It was," Riley said, "awesome."

"I'm so glad someone other than me is going to wind up smelling like crap," Reed said.

"I can't wait for summer vacation," Henry said.

I can't wait for the summer sequel.

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  • Gary Paulsen!!! Such an awesome author!!! You're so right when you say that he can write serious books as well as deep-belly laugh ones!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 AM  

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