November 24, 2011

Better than Weird

by Anna Kerz
Orca Book Publishers
217 pp.
Ages 8-12

Aaron Waite, who first appeared in Kerz's The Mealworm Diaries (Orca, 2009) as the weird kid with whom newcomer, Jeremy, was paired to complete mealworm experiments, is trying desperately to curb his "differences."  He knows he talks too fast, that he's impatient (hence his nickname "Cantwait"), that he laughs at the wrong things, that he acts before he thinks, and needs to be reminded constantly by his Gran about everyday things like putting on his underwear.  By talking to the school counsellor, Karen, and his Big Brother, Paul, making lists and doing a lot of self-talk, Aaron is making a great effort to hold onto his friendship with Jeremy and impress his own dad who he hasn't seen in eight years.

But, Aaron could have been the poster boy testifying that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.  He becomes the target of classmate, Tufan, after embarrassing him publicly; the music teacher, Ms Masilo, doesn't want him participating in the choir for the winter concert; and Jeremy is losing patience with Aaron after a series of mishaps, including messing up Jeremy's fish tank responsibility, and belabouring the news of Aaron's dad's impending visit, forgetting that Jeremy's father died recently.  But Aaron does not want to be seen as a loser.

The arrival of his dad with his new, pregnant wife, Sophie, gives Aaron the opportunity to get some answers as well as share himself with them, both critical to helping him see that he is truly "better than weird."

Similar to Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza character (Joey Pigza Loses Control, Macmillan, 2000) as a child with behavioural issues (Joey has ADHD) and an absentee father who returns, Aaron is a classmate of all our readers, one of the numerous diverse personalities with which they will connect in their schooling.  Kerz compassionately shares Aaron's struggles and joys while illustrating the different perceptions others have of him and how these perceptions impact his own views and responses.  As trying as they may appear to be, the Aarons bring richness to our lives.  Even Jeremy recognizes that,
"If everything goes smoothly all the time, we'll never have good stories to tell."(pg. 179)

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