June 12, 2017

Dingus

Written by Andrew Larsen
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-661-6
208 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2017

Dork. Doofus. Dingus.  Variations on a theme.  But Andrew Larsen’s narrator, eleven-year-old Henry will have no problems accepting that final moniker after the conclusion of his fifth grade and the beginning of a summer holiday that seems to hold no promise.

Though Henry likes his Gr. 5 teacher Mr. Buntrock–with his stories, laughter yoga and word-of–the-day–the school year has been one of multiple changes, not the least of which is his growing estrangement from his best friend Max.  Though the two boys have always relished their differences–Max is smarter, taller and wealthier–Max has become so immersed in his winning chess team that he has little time for Henry.  Worse still, Max seems to take pleasure is teasing Henry about wearing Max’s cast-off clothes and more, making Henry the butt of his chess team’s jokes.

At home, things are similarly in flux.  Mom who’d had baby Sam a year ago is returning to work which will require more travel, starting with a trip to Las Vegas the last day of school.  Dad, who’d lost his job just before Sam’s birth, has stayed at home to care for Sam and, by default, Henry. And, of course, there is less money for everything and anything, including a pair of much-admired Chad Baker sneakers.

I was mad at Max. I was mad at his new friends. I was mad at my dad for getting me Chad Fakers instead of Chad Bakers. I was mad at myself for being so mad.
   My life officially sucked.
   I was mad at that, too. 
(pg. 45)

Adding insult to injury, Max gets to go away to his much-loved chess camp while Henry  sees a summer of nothingness ahead of him.  What Henry doesn’t realize is that Dad’s idea of a staycation will bring him a new set of experiences like outdoors movie night, Elvis sandwiches, and bottle rockets, suggesting that change really is as good as a holiday.

It must be rough being a kid for whom everything feels like it’s going sideways.  What’s worse is when it’s things you can’t control like money, baby brothers, and friends as well as  things you can but don’t because you’re a dingus.  But Andrew Larsen realizes that change, like that of the puberty lessons Henry has to endure at the end of Grade 5, is inevitable and rolling with it rather than fighting it is probably a lot easier.

I know there’s a million middle-graders out there right not who are wondering about their summers, the changes their bodies and minds are going through, and the direction that friendships are heading.  It’s a lot on their plates, especially since things don’t always work out at planned.  But, take solace in that, even if you’re a Dingus–and we are all such goofs some time in our lives–that it’s rarely fatal and often educational, just like mistakes and school.

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