Gail Gauthier must have been hanging out with middle schoolers. She has perfectly captured the academic, mental and emotional state of that no-man's land we call Junior High in her new book, Happy Kid. I love this book, I am going to nominate it for the Texas Lonestar list.
Kyle is an average kid just trying to survive at Bert P. Trotts (is the gateway to Hell) Middle School. The previous year, Kyle's tech ed. school project results in him being accused of bringing a weapon to school. His innocence is established but the fallout over the incident carries over into the new school year. In an effort to help him improve his attitude and get him off on the right foot his mother has purchased a self help book for him, Happy Kid: a young person's guide to satisfying Relationships and a Happy Meaning-filled Life!
Kyle is mortified but accepts his mom's offer to pay him a dollar for every chapter he reads. His goal in life is the prayer of every middle schooler, he just wants to blend in and maybe have a good friend.
As the school year gets underway Kyle wonders why the book keeps opening to the same chapter and only changes once that chapter's issue has been dealt with in his life. How does the book seem to always know what help he needs?
Gauthier has perfectly recreated the environment of high-stakes state student assessment testing. Here they are called (wonderfully) the SSASies. I chuckled as SSASie review sheets are passed out in every class the first day of school. As one student says, "The schools are being tested but we are taking the tests?"
She has also accurately captured the strange social world and tension that develops between A-students (honors, advanced,) the regular kids, and the small scary underclass of soon-to-be-criminals. Finding the right place to sit at lunch the first day of school is a real crisis and having the campus bully think you are one of his posse is serious.
Like many junior high faculties, the teachers at Trotts are slightly odd. (I have always wondered do the teachers get that way by teaching middle schoolers or are they already slightly nutty and therefore drawn to junior high?) Kyle's teachers are achingly familiar. He has a great family complete with an obnoxious older sister. His mom is so anxious for him to have a good year, she thinks a book can help him. His dad is slightly bewildered and trying to understand the two teenagers under his roof.
As I read Happy Kid, I was rooting for Kyle all the way. He is struggling to succeed in his advanced A-classes where he has been mistakenly placed by clerical error and to find some friends and time for any fun outside of school. He is faced with a huge ethical dilemma and he wants to do the right thing but he risks losing everything he has gained by doing it.
The entire story is told with so much humor I was laughing aloud. My youngest entling is just out of junior high having entered high school this year. She (and I) found so much truth in the pages of this story. As she read parts of it aloud to me we were absolutely limp from laughter.
I could go on and on about all the aspects of this book that I loved. Just read it.
Gail Gauthier blogs at Original Content.