Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Monday, February 1, 2010

Featured Book: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

In Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, we’re reminded that high school is exhausting. In addition to homeworking and fretting about becoming a big brother, Scott writes for the school paper, serves (briefly) on the student council, and works behind the scenes for the all-school play. Poor kid hardly has time to sleep.

Endearing, sympathetic, and clever (without being too clever), Scott narrates the ins and outs of his first year of high school—the loss of his three childhood friends (to girls, wrestlers, and Texas), the pursuit of his kindergarten chum (who’s become the cutest girl in ninth grade), the awkward dances in which all the guys stand to one side waiting for the painful ordeal to end, and his accidental friendships with a senior bully and a girl everyone calls a freak. The movement through the novel is spot on. We cover an entire school year in 280 pages, breezing through when we can, slowing when we need to focus on important moments. Scott is reflective, but not distractingly so. We understand Scott in the way that he speaks to and interacts with others, NOT by him TELLING us who he thinks he is.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie
by David Lubar
Speak, 2005
One of the most charming elements of the novel is the relationship Lubar establishes between Scott and his unborn kid brother. He writes him letters, telling him about school, offering him advice and reflections about his own mistakes and misfortunes. What’s great is that Scott is able to write these things to his baby brother (who may or may not actually ever see the letters) that he doesn’t feel he can say to his dad, older brother, or former best friends. Guys don’t talk about feelings. Scott, although sometimes suspicious, and even jealous, of this strange thing growing in Mom’s belly, obviously cares about him. And his scrawling to the little alien helps him understand his own world a little better.

Finally, Lubar does a fine job with the classroom scenes—especially English class. Not only does he authentically depict interactions between students in class (when the teacher’s not looking), but he presents a teacher that all book lovers dream about having. Also, Lubar cleverly works discussions about the elements of craft into his text. For example, Scott narrates the beginning of chapter twenty-six from first-, second-, and third-person during the class’s discussion of viewpoint. This sequence is a perfect example of how Scott (and Lubar) manages to be quite clever without being gimmicky or over-the-top.

Recommended for boys, ages 13-15.

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