Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Smiles to go before I weep

Book: Smiles to Go
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Published: 2008 (Harper)
Pages: 248

These short chapters track the days from when the proton was first dismantled, by a boy who cares about that, and keeping the weekly Monopoly game with his two best friends in line, and seeing the Horseshoe Nebula, and using it as a backdrop to try and kiss one of the his best friends when he sees her kissing the other part of their trio and suddenly feels weird and jealous about it.
It’s about growing up nerd, in other words, and it’s a great, deceptively straightforward way of showing a smart protagonist discovering just how much he doesn’t actually know.
This takes us to his annoying little sister (is there any other kind? I’m not trying to be smartassingly rhetoric here; your only kid Constant Reader would truly like to know if you can tell her) getting into a life-threatening accident trying to emulate her brother, which of course is the only way that it dawns on him that the reason she annoys him so much is that they love each other.
Nobody dies, and the ending is kind of sappy, but I do like how his mom has to tell him point-blank what it means because he’s still just a kid, not autistic or anything but still very fact-oriented and confused about All of the Feels, and I do like that the accident and recovery is difficult in a realistic kind of way that’s actually sort of inconvenient to the plot – it abruptly puts the rest of his life in the background and gives him some sort of perspective without delving into Hallmark territory.
I especially like two details of the before-the-accident plot:
1. When he and his best female friend finally do kiss, it’s great and he boy-swoons and is convinced they’ll live happily ever after… but nothing new starts. They’re still friends in exactly the same way, and it drives him insane trying to act normal and not blink about it before she does, and finally he just sort of breaks down in front of her. Not anything blubbery or over-emotional or declaring his life-long love, but just, “WHAT IS GOING ON I CAN’T EVEN” in a way that underscores his need for logic, organization, and planning, especially for something that is this confusing to him to begin with. Really good plot-reveals-character stuff.
2. Another eloquently revealed character detail is smaller but my favorite part of the whole book. It’s when his male best friend has to recite a poem in front of the class and he does “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” (I did that one too, in seventh grade! Robert Frost is one of those writers where you have to remind people that his massive popularity doesn’t detract from his artistic cred – have you read “Fire and Ice” lately? Go do it. I’ll wait. SEE?), and he mis-recites the last two lines as “And smiles to go before I weep/And smiles to go before I weep.” It underlines this character’s mile-wide and semi-unearned optimistic streak, and that’s cool and all, but I just love it to pieces in its own right. 
This is gonna bookshelf. It’s part of the slow (iceburgean, really) process I’m making in getting through all the unread, purchased books in my apartment, and it’s a very worthy piece.

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