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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Guys Read: Thriller

The egg-hunting’s over. You’ve had your fill of chocolate, ham, and jelly beans—maybe even chocolate-covered, jelly bean-stuffed ham. Now it’s time to relax with a good story. Perhaps a good thriller to shock you out of that sugary stupor. Like a ghost story. Or a tale about monsters. How about pirates? Snakes? An incompetent private investigator?

How about all of the above? 

Thriller is the second in a Guys Read series of short-story collections for middle grade readers (preceded by Guys Read: Funny Business). Edited by Jon Scieszka (Guys Read, The Time Warp Trio), illustrated by Brett Helquist (Lemony Snicket's ASeries of Unfortunate Events), and written by popular writers of fiction for young readers (M.T. Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, and Margaret Peterson Haddix, to name a few), Thriller is filled with tales of “normal” kids who find themselves thrust into abnormal (even paranormal) situations.

Cleanly-told, swiftly-paced, and amusingly-illustrated, these gems are well-suited for boys age nine and up—especially boys who don’t otherwise make reading a top priority.

Many of the situations in the book remind me of Eerie, Indiana, a great Twilight-Zone-esque show from my childhood I have trouble believing is now 20 years old. Patrick Carman’s Ghost Vision Glasses has an especially Eerie vibe. It’s about Kyle, who loves collecting weird things and is convinced he’s hit the jackpot when he finds a stack of old comics at his parents’ new cabin. The old magazines are filled with ads for some of the weirdest stuff he’s ever seen, including a pair of ghost vision glasses.  Aside from a few quasi-dei ex machinis plot improbabilities, the story has a nice arch with a satisfying conclusion (and a tantalizing tease at the possibility of further adventures for Kyle). 

Guys Read: Thriller
Edited by Jon Scieszka
Walden Pond Press, 2011
Illustrations by Brett Helquist
But some stories in the collection leave a little too much to be desired for my taste, especially Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Pudding and James Patterson’s Boys Will be Boys. Both start with such promise and energy but fizzle in their abrupt, incomplete-feeling conclusions.  Almost like the stories are excerpts from larger works crammed into this collection out of context.  But I don’t know if that’s the case.

For the most part, though, the stories are light and fun and satisfying.

One notable departure in tone from the rest of the book is Walter Dean Myers’ Pirate.  The pirates in this story are not inspired by a ride (or multi-billion dollar film franchise) by Disney, nor are they the stuff of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. They’re contemporary pirates found off the coast of Somalia—the ones we hear about in the news every now and then, capturing vessels and holding hostages for ransom. It’s a weightier and more challenging story than the others found in this collection—but no less readable. And it’s certainly not out of place.  It still thrills and chills, but in a different way than the P.I. or paranormal stories do.  It’s narrated by the youngest (14)  member of a group of pirates that captures a yacht for money.  It’s gritty. Tense. Ideologically ambiguous.  In other words, it’s a great story.

So guys, get reading! For fans of excitement, Guys Read: Thriller is a good place to start.

Recommended for ages 9+.

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