Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Review: Happy Kid!

I've been waiting for many a month to read Happy Kid!, by Gail Gauthier. First of all, I love Gail's blog. She's a great writer with a funny, dry sense of humor. Second, Camille at Book Moot had already given the book a big thumbs up at The Edge of the Forest.

I'm happy to report that Happy Kid! is all I expected it to be. It's laugh-out-loud funny and a sharp piece of social commentary at the same time. I loved the main character, Kyle, and his family (especially his safety-conscious grandmother), as well as all the kids at Bert P. Trotts Middle School. Here's the long and short of it:

Kyle's sixth-grade year did not end well. One day on the school bus, a screwdriver he made in Technology falls out of his backpack and catches the attention of the bus driver. Well, you can guess what happens to poor Kyle. Yep. He's accused of bringing a weapon to school. And, although charges were not pressed when it became clear he made the screwdriver under the supervision of a teacher, the whole school finds out about the incident.

Kyle spends the summer holed up in his room. Just before school starts, his mom gives him a present: Happy Kid! A Young Person's Guide to Satisfying Relationships and a Happy and Meaning-filled Life!. Kyle is not feeling happy--about school or this ridiculous book. But his mom bribes him--one dollar per chapter.

Soon Kyle discovers the book falls open to the same page time and time again--until he addresses the problem or suggestion the chapter entails. The first chapter he encounters is, "It All Begins with Hello! Building great relationships begins with the word "hello"!" You can't build a satisfying relationship if you won't even open your mouth." (p. 12) And, sure enough, Kyle finds himself saying "hello" to everyone at school on the first day.

Over the course of a few months, Kyle tries something new, reconnects with old friends, learns to look on the bright side, figures out how to fight fires, and stands up for someone who needs help. In the end, the book instructs Kyle to give it to someone who needs it more.

Happy Kid! is more than a story of Kyle's learning to navigate the treacherous waters of Middle School. School testing and Accelerated Classes play a large role in the plot of the novel and no social group is safe from scrutiny.

Happy Kid! is a Young Adult novel for kids ages ten to fourteen. It's funny and touching and Gauthier does a great job in showing the adult world through the eyes of a confused seventh-grader. Happy Kid! is highly recommended and a Favorite of 2006.