Monday, September 08, 2014

All for Love! Family Ties by Gary Paulsen

I'm the happiest guy alive. Because Katrina M. Zablinski is my girlfriend.

I'm also the greatest family member you'll ever meet.

Lack of confidence is not Kevin Spencer's problem.

But he's under a lot of pressure. He is totally head-over-heels smitten with Tina, and he's sure she's the one for him for life. So naturally, he's got to plan a first date with her that will sweep her off her feet in awe with what a wonderful family man he's going to be.

So Kev starts the ball rolling by e-mailing his dad's brother Will, whose last visit practically wrecked the house, to come for the weekend and mend some family fences with his brother. Of course, Kevin's parents have not a clue about this amnesty project, so when the doorbell rings, Dad has a big surprise on his doorstep.

"Michael!" Uncle Will's voice boomed, "Got a big hug for your favorite brother?" Uncle Will put his arm around a woman stand just outside the door and pulled her into the house. "This is Brandee! Two ees! Because she's Extra Excellent.

Brandee's my new wife!"

Brandee's excellence wasn't so obvious to my folks. "Nice to meet you," Mom and Dad muttered.

Uncle Will reached behind Brandee and yanked a small boy forward. "And this is her son Larry. I call him Sparky....!"

It seems that Larry's nickname was chosen with care. Sparky is fascinated with fire, especially starting them.

Uncle Will had saved the best for last. He reached behind Brandee again and pulled forth a polar bear on a leash. "And this is Athena. Athena is part Great Pyrenees, he added.

"Oh, yeah, Athena's got a bladder infection. She can't always hold it real well!"

It looks that pulling off a miracle mending these family ties is going to be just the ticket to impress Tina, Kevin figures, and he heads off to school full of enthusiasm. In short order, he signs up for the school art fair, because Tina's old buddy is on the committee, and agrees to partner with Tina's best friend Katie in the social studies family project, where he has to take care of his and Katie's "baby," simulated by a popcorn-kernel-stuffed onesie, so that they get extra credit for family stress.

But Kevin is on a roll. He's got a great idea for that first date with Tina--he'll plan and stage a wedding celebration for Will and Brandee. That ought to knock Tina's socks off and show what a caring husband he will make.

But things at home get even more complicated. First, Grandma Lucille hears about the big event and shows up on that doorstep, packing a utility belt stuffed with cleaning supplies. Lucille is an compulsive cleaning fanatic and immediately gets to work scrubbing and cleaning the upstairs bathrooms.

Then the doorbell rings again. On the well-worn stoop is Kevin's grandfather, Lucille's ex-husband, Papa, with his flashy girlfriend Lola, a Vegas showgirl way back in the day. Lola takes over the introductions.

Lucille looked uncomfortable and stated toying with a bottle of tub and tile disinfectant jutting out of her fanny pack. Lola zoomed over and threw her arms around her boyfriend's ex-wife.

"I feel like I know you, like we're sisters or old friends already." Lola squeezed Lucile and rocked back and forth. She tucked her arm through Lucille's and grinned, clearly believing she'd just made a new BFF.

Kevin's mom is treating a sudden headache by resting her forehead on a bag of frozen peas in the freezer by this time, but Kevin volunteers to take care of all the wedding arrangements. He gets as far as making a to-do list, but as the week goes by, he finds that he's falling behind, way behind, as wedding planner, especially since there are suddenly two other potential happy couples, Papa and Lola and Aunt Buzz and her boyfriend Jim. Then Athena's "problem" turns out to be an unrecognized pregancy, as she gives birth to a litter of giant Pyrennes puppies. The more the merrier, Kevin thinks, all the more likely to secure Tina Zabinski's eternal love when she sees him as the complete family man, toasting all four couples suavely at the wedding.

And it's all in the name of love, in Newbery author Gary Paulsen's latest in his comic Kevin series, Family Ties (Random House, 2014). This time Kevin is not outdoing himself at daring deeds or raking in cool cash, but presiding over yet another sit-com-style adventure in Gary Paulsen's comic novel series celebrating the world's funniest dysfunctional family.

Other short, laugh-a-minute titles in this series are Liar, Liar: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Deception, Crush: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Love, Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Greed, and Vote.

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