Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lonely Guy: The Big One-Oh by Dean Pitchford

I couldn't really say that there was anybody in school who I could call a friend. And certainly nobody who would call me a friend.

Except Jennifer, and I didn't even want to be seen with her.

But is that so bad--not having friends? I wondered. After all I've got school, I've got Boing Boing my dog and Monsters & Maniacs comics and making dinner every night. My life is full, I told myself. Even if it does get a little lonely sometimes....

I hadn't thought of it before, but, yeah, it gets lonely.

Charley Maplewood has always known he has no real friends, but he has a life-changing moment of truth one afternoon as he watches his weird next-door neighbor Garry Quarky being dumped by his unattractive girlfriend, nicknamed "Pincushion" by Charley for her unattractive body piercings and prickly personality. As she wildly steers her van over Charley's mom's shrubbery, she yells out her final breakup complaint:

"You can't change, Garry. Look at you! You're a grown man with no social fashion sense... and NO FRIENDS!

Face it, Garry. You're a FREAK!"

Suddenly in Garry's devastated face Charley Maplewood sees his own future. Somehow, he realizes, he's got to get some social skills and some friends. (Fashion sense can wait.) Charley pins his hopes on a party to celebrate his upcoming birthday, the big one-oh!

His mother is overjoyed to see Charley acting like a normal kid, and the birthday boy throws himself into making plans for the food, the decor, the entertainment, and oh, yeah, the hardest part--some friends to attend. His mania for horror comics gives him the idea for his theme, "House of Horrors," but he's without a clue how to carry it out until his dog Boing Boing runs into a problem with Garry. It seems Boing has nabbed a fake bloody foot from Garry's garage and Garry is desperate to get it back. In the course of retrieving the disgustingly realistic latex body part, Charley and Garry hit it off and Charley learns that his freaky neighbor is a former special effects expert whose resume is filled with ultra-cool B horror films and whose passion is sculpting scars and dismembered body parts. When Garry offers his collection of grisly props as decor for the party, Charley's double-digit birthday plans are a go--except for coming up with some actual friends to invite.

Charley's birthday theme is disgustingly gross enough to attract eight possible celebrants--Donna, the class golden girl, and her followers Dina and Dana, Leo, the coolest dude in the class, Darryl, the class nerd, and Leland, a.k.a "Cougar," the class bully, and his hanger-on, Scottie, and, in a weak moment of compassion, the hopelessly dorky Jennifer. But then, when he accepts a UPS delivery of special latex for the absent Garry, Charley can't resist using some to try making his own body parts and accidentally burns down the garage. His irrate mom forbids him even to speak to Garry, and when she has to take on extra work on Saturdays to pay for the damage, she cancels the birthday party as well.

But Charley has already invited the guests, and he knows his reputation at school will go down the tubes if he has to un-invite them, so he resolves to do the party on his own. His party-day prep turns out to be a disaster: his sister opens the oven and his cake batter falls to the thickness of a pancake; the DVD player jams, canceling his fall-back plan to show a horror movie; and the only decoration he can come up with is the lame clown-themed helium balloon bouquet his father sent from Scotland. Then, just as Cougar pronounces this the suckiest party in the history of the universe, there's an ominous knock at the door.

Outside lightning bolts zapped and threw quick spooky shadows on the wall. Thunder rattled our windows. In low, horrid tones, the Monster rumbled. "The Birthday Boy asked me to drop by and eat some of his..." He stopped and cleared his throat. "I mean, meet some of his classmates."

Since Cougar was in front of the pack, I could see his face the clearest. And it went white. "Uh, Charley's here somewhere." he stammered.

"Charley? Ah," said the Monster. "I've already seen him."

And, as he said that, from out of his overcoat he pulled... my head!

I'm serious! He was holding my head by my hair, and it had been cut off at the neck!

Everybody's jaw dropped down so far that I could see who still had their tonsils and who didn't. Then, in one big tidal wave of noise, they all screamed together.

Of course, it's Garry to the rescue of the big one-oh party, and with the coolest, most spectacular birthday party entertainment under his belt, Charley's social status is secured. Even Cougar, who is so scared that he has to borrow dry underwear from Charley, looks like he's going to be on his side in the future. It's the best birthday ever for Charley Maplewood.

Dean Pitchford's The Big One-Oh has guaranteed guy appeal, but it's no simple gross-out story. Charley's clueless longing for social acceptance is genuine, and the other characters--his hard-pressed mom, the geeky but kind Garry, and even his sarcastic teenaged sister--come across as real people. There's humor and pathos and genuine fun here, making this a sure-fire good read for middle graders.

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  • One of my favorite books. Thanks for reviewing it.

    By Blogger Leigh, at 9:31 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger GTC, at 10:57 AM  

  • No problem! It was a hoot! Reminds me of Jack Gantos at his best!

    By Blogger GTC, at 10:59 AM  

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