July 17, 2018


Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press
231 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2018

There's an anonymity that comes with being the new kid at school that can be refreshing. But most times, and twelve-year-old Cooper Vega knows this well, you're just Whatshisface, the guy no one cares to know. You're not part of the established cohorts or activities and many kids are not going to bother trying to include you in their lives.  Cooper feels like his job is just "to get out of the way." (pg. 1) But, in his new home town of Stratford, where Somerset Wolfson, Shakespearean fanatic and one of the richest men in the U.S., lives, it's looks like it might not work as it always has.

Being in Grade 7, Cooper and his classmates will be responsible for performing the annual Shakespearean play.  This year's play will be Romeo and Juliet, an endeavour supported financially by Mr. Wolfson. As much as Cooper might enjoy playing Romeo–the role assigned to the obnoxious Brock Bumgartner–opposite the incredible Jolie, he is selected for Second Watchman, a perfect role for a Whatshisface.

But when his new cell phone, the GX-4000, starts acting up and connects with the ghost of a young printer's apprentice, Roderick Barnabas Northrop, from 1596 England, staying a Whatshisface becomes a little harder.  This is especially true when Roddy, in his efforts to help Cooper become less of a Whatshisface and win Jolie's attentions, learns that the play they are performing is one he had started writing prior to his death!

Gordon Korman is a writing hero to middle graders. He has the heart of a middle grader or at least he writes like one and that's why young readers LOVE his books. He writes funny stories with great plots, relatable characters and satisfying endings that resolve with honesty and realism. That's pretty amazing considering there's a ghost in a cell phone in Whatshisface. Still the characters, other than Roddy, are real kids who want to fit in or be popular or get the lead role or want to stay under the radar. Most are just trying to survive middle school. Readers will see themselves in Cooper, a boy who doesn't feel like he belongs but does feel like he's always messing up.  He's not a loser but he certainly feels like one at times, not unlike just about everyone in the world. And they'll cheer for him when Roddy whips out insult after insult, in true sixteen-century style, to come to Cooper's defence.
"...had my fat hound thy face, I should shave its hindquarters and train it to present itself rearward." (pg. 81)
 (This is paraphrased by Cooper as "...if my dog had your face, I'd shave its butt and teach it to walk backward."; pg. 81) What child would not laugh uproariously at that irreverence?

While many young readers will be grabbed by the familiar plot of trying to fit in, the subplot related to Shakespeare's alleged theft of manuscripts is a fascinating one. By incorporating that controversy (and there is a history of allegations that Shakespeare may have adapted, if not stolen, the works of others) with the quirky friendship between boy and ghost, finding one's place, whether in middle school or in history, takes on a whole new dimension.

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