Monday, May 23, 2011

Totally Joe

Recently I received James Howe's Addie on the Inside to review for VOYA. I had been aware of Howe's Bunnicula series but had never read anything by him. In any case, the front cover of Addie calls the book a "companion" to The Misfits, and then I found out that another book called Totally Joe fit in there somewhere.

Let's just say I like to be thorough! Which naturally means that I felt compelled to start at the beginning with The Misfits. Narrated by Bobby Goodspeed, a thoughtful 12-year-old who is part of the four-member "Gang of Five", The Misfits is a quiet little story about how Bobby learns to speak up, not only for himself but for others. Bobby had been bumbling along with his fellow misfit friends, but finds within himself unexpected strength and leadership qualities. Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, in spite of a few parts that I found a little tedious (such as the word-for-word transcripts that Addie insists on keeping each time the Gang of Five gets together). The ending was unexpectedly moving, however, and pretty much won me over to the series, so I was happy enough to proceed to Totally Joe.

And wow! Just wow. This novel is narrated by Joe Bunch, another of the group's misfits who just happens to be a 12-year-old gay boy (technically, at 12 he's not a teen yet). Joe is working on an English assignment, which is to write, over several months, an "alphabiography" of his life from A to Z. I was initially worried that this book would simply recap the events of The Misfits, but was pleased to find that the plot does actually advance chronologically -- not too far but just enough to satisfy -- from the prior book.

This was an incredibly touching book, and I was very impressed by Howe's ability to significantly change up both the format and voice from The Misfits, yet undeniably retain the spirit of that book. I was particularly moved by trying to imagine what it must be like to be a boy young enough that you still think kissing is gross, yet old and self-aware enough to know that you like boys, not girls. If you don't feel something while reading this book, then in my opinion you just don't feel much at all.

When I finally got to Addie on the Inside, I was surprised to find that it is told entirely in verse, yet another complete change in format and voice. I was skeptical, but now I'm just really impressed with Howe's scope and talent. I won't say more about Addie here since I just submitted my review to VOYA, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend this entire series.

And I can't wait to see what format and previously unexplored depths Howe comes up with for the fourth member of the Gang of Five, Skeezie. Read more!