Review: Wise Young Fool

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin. Little, Brown. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Ritchie Sudden is locked up for ninety days. He’s about to tell you why he got here. Well, eventually.

Ritchie is about to tell you about his senior year. And how he and his best friend, Elliot Hella, started a band.

And he’s going to tell you about the hottest girl in school, Ravenna Woods.

And maybe a bit about his Mom, and his Mom’s girlfriend, Looper.

But not Beth. At least, not yet.

It’s a boy, and a guitar, and music, and a band, and best friends.

And it’s about surviving those ninety days — and so, yes, Ritchie will let you know, eventually, why he’s in there. What happened.

But first, he’s going to tell you about the band. Every band needs a name, right? How does Sin Sistermouth sound?

OK, then. How about Wise Young Fool?

The Good: Loved, loved, loved Ritchie. The book begins at Progressive Progress, where Ritchie is serving his ninety days: “The air would taste like angst, except there is no air. The silence would sound like fear and pain, except there is no silence.” And then Ritchie is telling us about the day before senior year, when he and Elliot Hella went to buy Ritchie’s electric guitar, and, as Ritchie explains, “a band is dying to be born.”

And how, I wonder, did this great kid get from here to there, from point A to point locked up?

Ritchie is funny and smart. I’m sure his teachers have said, endlessly, that he doesn’t work up to his potential. Here, early on, Ritchie describing Elliot’s current, elderly stepfather: “Lawrence shrugs and nods, practically a living memory, a dream of tweed suits and chalkboards and differential equations, like Russell Crowe in that movie where he’s not a gladiator.” How can you not love Ritchie?

Sometimes, I forgot where Ritchie was. The ninety days. Instead, I got swept into Ritchie’s year of forming a band and deciding on a name (and oh, the endless band name debates!) I got pulled into the drama of Ritchie wanting one girl while hooking up with another and not quite knowing what to do next, except to ignore phone calls. (Let me add: while Ritchie is in love (or is it lust?) with one girl, and ends up sleeping with another because, well, she’s there, and this is always told from Ritchie’s point of view, both Ravenna and Lacy Duplais are fully formed characters, with their own wants and needs and story arcs that aren’t about Ritchie.) And I wondered about Beth, Ritchie’s older sister.

Beth is dead: and Beth’s death, and the aftermath, and what happened before are things that Ritchie reveals gradually. Let’s just say, his father took off and started a new family. And now his mother is with Looper. And Ritchie hates to drive. One of the things I loved about Wise Young Fool is how little, really, I ended up knowing about Beth, or Ritchie’s mom or dad. By the end, I knew more about Looper, his mom’s girlfriend, than any of Ritchie’s other family members. Why? Because, of course, Beth died. And it’s easier for Ritchie to talk with Looper, because she is part of his after-Beth life. Which reminds me of another thing I liked about Wise Young Fool: how little the adults mattered in the story, yet, still, were present and there. This is always Ritchie’s story, a story of a teenager learning to deal with a tremendous loss and still enjoying life, and friends, and music. Always, the music.

A quick note about the names: in addition to the dual-story going on (Ritchie serving his time, and Ritchie’s senior year that led up to his serving time) this is also structured as a “found manuscript” : “Three years ago, a very curious manuscript was turned in to our offices. . . .  we have still found no trace of the town, friends, or high school Ritchie refers to below.” While it’s an interesting thing to bring into a book discussion, it also tells the reader to look at Ritchie’s humor and wordplay in the names he gives his friends, family and town. Even Ritchie’s own name, “Ritchie Sudden” (rich sudden? suddenly rich?), his friend El Hella; a teacher is called Miss Menepausse; his home town is Sackville, just to point out a few.

Because even though I haven’t been in a band, and have no musical talent whatsoever, yet got what music meant to Ritchie, and what that band meant to him. Because Ritchie was so awesome. Because Ravenna and Lacy have full stories, even though this is always Ritchie’s own. Because Looper and his Mom is an awesome couple. Wise Young Fool is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews and links: Wise Young Fool Trailer; Bewitched Bookworms.


Review: The Infects

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin. Candlewick Press. 2012. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: So, Nick Sole is working at plant that produces fast food chicken. It’s a dead end job, but he’s not really a slacker — he has to help support his family, since his mom left, his dad doesn’t do much of anything (not since he lost his job at the same factory) and he has a younger sister that doesn’t quite have Aspergers. Bad luck and a problem at work leads to him being arrested and sentenced and before you know it, he’s in a van with a lot of other juvenile delinquents, headed to some nature hike to make him a better person, with the nickname Nero.

Then, the zombies attack. Does a van full of teenage criminals, without any weapons, stand a chance?

The Good: The Infects begins with a “gotcha” moment. Nick and his younger sister are fighting zombies, and just as you’re impressed with the nine year old’s fighting skills, gotcha! They’ve been playing a video game. Instead, Nick is just living his normal, boring, trying to make ends meet life. His biggest worry is trying to get up the nerve to do something about his crush, Petal Gazes, who he sees at both work and at school.

The Infects is funny and knowing; it expects the reader to be up on their zombie culture. Chapter headings include Don’t Fear the Reaper and All  Along the Watchtower. Pages are blood-spattered. Even before a full-fledged, people-eating zombie appears before Nero, things are happening in the background that a reader will pick up on. A news report in the background talking about cows that have been torn to pieces. A woman with unfocused eyes walks by, growling and snapping like a dog.

A bite of a zombie infects a person; hence the nickname and title, The Infects. But what is the source of the prime infection? What starts it? And what does it mean? Of course, none of that matters, not at first, as this bunch of teenage boys on a mountain try to figure out just what to do in the face of a zombie attack. Along the way, they meet up with the van of female teenage delinquents, and guess who is in that van? Guess? If you said Petal, you’d be right!

The zombies are frightening and scary, the boys are both resourceful, brave, and foolish, and I wondered just where The Infects was taking me. Forget about twists and turns; it takes expectations and turns them upside down and sideways and I loved every moment of the weird, scary, funny, terrifying trip. When I got to the end, I thought — well, why not?

Other reviews: Guys Lit Wire; Smash Attack Reads.

Review: You Killed Wesley Payne

You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Dalton Rev, 17, looks like just another transfer student to Salt River High. Except, he’s not. He’s working a job; he’s there to find out who killed Wesley Payne. Dalton, who has adopted the Lexington Cole pulp noir mystery series as his bible for life and for work, talks and acts like someone out of the novels he loves. Lucky for him, he’s living in a world that is also out of a pulp novel, a world of teenage cliques that run scams and battle (literally) for power in high school halls as adults look the other way — provided they’ve been paid off.

The Good: From the beginning, You Killed Wesley Payne is full of tough talk that is slightly over the top: “Dalton Rev thundered into the parking lot of Salt River High, a squat brick building at the top of a grassless hill that looked more like the last stop of the hopeless than a springboard to the college of your choice. His black scooter wove through groups of students waiting for the first bell, muffler growling like a defective chain saw. In Dalton’s line of work it was vital to make a good first impression, especially if by good you mean utterly intimidating.” Note, also, the hint of humor — a scooter? Really? That’s intimidating?

Salt River High has two dominant cliques: the Balls (the football team) and the Pinker Caskets (a band). There are other cliques (the Yearbook Committee, the Euclidians) as well as sub-cliques (the Sis Boom Bahs.) Cliques fight for power, have rackets (selling football tickets, knockoff iPods, yearbooks, term papers) and offer members some level of protection. It’s complex enough that the book includes a schematic as well as longer definitions of each clique. The presentation of these various high school groups is over the top and heightened.

Dalton himself is a mix of over the top (working as a private investigator for a couple years now) and grounded. The reason he began working? His older brother joined the army and his father is out of work; Dalton is helping pay the family bills. He is also saving to buy his brother body armour. Dalton is hustling, playing games as much as any clique — heck, you could say he is his own clique (the Maltese Falcons?) — but he does so not out of a desire for power but to help his family.

There is, of course, a girl; two, actually. Wesley’s sister, Macey Payne as well as Cassiopeia Jones, one of the Foxxes who seems to have some sort of connection to Dalton. What hardboiled detective story doesn’t have a love interest to distract the detective?

The writing is full of allusions and references:  Dalton is named for the bouncer from his father’s favorite movie, the school snipers are the Lee Harvies, two cops are Estrada and Hutch. A glossary at the end explains some, but not all, and I’m sure I missed some. I enjoyed the writing and the style tremendously; Bookshelves of Doom observed, “In small doses, I enjoyed this book hugely.” Chasing Ray said “this is a true teen mystery, and once you give yourself up to its strange, strange world, you won’t look back.”

Movies I was reminded of : Brick and Assassination of a High School President.