Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Smiles to Go, by Jerry Spinelli

Title:  Smiles to Go
Author:  Jerry Spinelli
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Year:  2009
Pages:  272
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Friendship, First Love, Family
Age Range:  4th-7th Grade

Will Tuppence likes things orderly, planned out, and unchanging.  The high school freshman and future astronomer has lived most of his life with one comforting fact at its foundation-protons never die.  And because protons can never be destroyed, then regardless of what happens to him as his body changes and eventually dies, some part of him will continue to exist.  But then the unthinkable happens-on Sept. 26 at 10:15 AM he learns that scientists have finally recorded the tell-tale flash that signals the death of a proton.  Suddenly, everything that he thought he knew about the physical world is called into question.  And just as suddenly, his relationship with his best friends Mi-Su and BT, as well as his relationship with his little sister Tabby, begin to change as well.  Does Mi-Su like him like him?  Did he really catch her kissing BT?  Will BT ever make something of himself?  Will his little sister ever leave him alone?  As events spin out of Will's control, he is forced to come to terms with the fact that worrying about the eventual death of his protons is less important than worrying about his loved ones in the here and now.

Spinelli's books are always spot on when it comes to creating authentic adolescent characters, and Will Tuppence is no exception.  He's also pretty good at writing characters who are clueless about what is really important in life, and Will is certainly that.  Will's character reveals the contradiction that lies at the heart of most transitions, and especially the one from child to teen to adult; we want things to stay the same at the same time that we desperately want change.  Will was happy with his world just the way it was-except for his annoying little sister, of course.  He loved his friends, he enjoyed their Saturday night Monopoly routine, he frankly enjoyed feeling superior to his friend BT, who seemed like a soul doomed to wander lost with no real purpose in life.  But inevitably things started to change-he started having feelings for Mi-Su, and then started having jealousy towards BT when he caught the kissing under the stars.  He felt even more jealousy when BT skateboarded down Dead Man's Hill, the only person ever to do so.  And it seemed like no matter what he said or did, his little sister became more determined to torment him day and night.

When Tabby is seriously injured in an attempt to re-create BT's amazing ride down Dead Man's Hill, Will is forced to confront his own ideas about what it important.  To be perfectly honest, it forces him to stop thinking only of himself.  He spends most of the novel being pretty self-centered, thinking about everything that happens only as it relates to him.  It also forces him to accept the people he loves for who they are, instead of trying to force them into the mold he wants to make for them.

I am not in love with this book the way I was with Stargirl, but it is another solid performance from Spinelli, and would make a good addition to any classroom library.

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