Tuesday, March 18, 2014

That's what it's all about

Jerry Spinelli's Hokey Pokey provided a bit of relief from fairy tale and Nazi horrors in my recent round of listening. For all that, though, I found it hard to like. It tells of one day in the life of a boy named Jack who rides around the Neverland (i.e., boys' paradise) of Hokey Pokey -- atop the noble bicycle Scramjet, stomping in puddles, watching cartoons, enjoying the sno-cone-like hokey pokeys, the popular Big Kid for all the kiddie residents from toddler to adolescent. It's pretty heavenly ... until Jubilee steals the bike.

And paints it yellow. And renames it Hazel. But it's not the only thing to be off on this one day: Jack can hear the train whistle, yet the train never comes to Hokey Pokey, and the tattooed eye on his belly is fading fast. Could Jack be living The Story of Hokey Pokey's most famous resident, The Kid, who announced one day that he would be leaving and was never seen again? His amigos, LaJo and Dusty, try to cheer him up, but it turns out that Jubilee seems to understand him better now. Jack gets his one-way ticket at the station and hops the train.

And it was all a dream. Jack wakes up remembering that today's the day he and his dad are going to repaint his room -- covering over that kiddie fish wallpaper. Yes, it was time for Jack to leave Hokey Pokey, for our Jack is growing up. He's even put his dirty laundry in the hamper.

Maybe it's because I was never a boy, but this was a real yawner for me. Spinelli is clearly reliving his own childhood because Hokey Pokey is a nostalgic look at a childhood of Looney Tunes cartoons and playing cowboys (however, with nary an Indian in sight). Hokey Pokey is what boys like to do. (I vaguely remember some mention of where you go to play with dolls, but it was only mentioned in passing ... and with disdain.) Jubilee is a risk-taking tomboy, dare I say the kind of girl a pre-adolescent boy might find worth knowing? Then Spinelli goes and authors it all up with run-on sentences, stream-of-consciousness self-consciousness, and made-up words (Snotsippers, Gapergums, Sillynillys and Longspitters are all used to describe Hokey Pokey's younger residents).

Most of the novel is narrated by Maxwell Glick, who brings appro- priate youth- fulness to his reading. He also chooses to read with a reverence that no doubt contributed to my general feeling of ho-hum about the book. While there are some differing characterizations and the pace occasionally varies, most of Glick's narration feels stilted, every word receives the same emphasis as if he's worried that he might skip over something.

Tara Sands reads the few chapters from Jubilee's perspective. Her light, lively voice injects a much-needed jolt of energy to the proceedings, making Jubilee's brief appearances most welcome. (Or is that because I'm a girl?) I understand why she was brought in to read Jubilee's chapters, yet at the same time  I wonder why different male readers were not employed to read the chapters featuring LaJo or the boy named The Destroyer. Navigating Early had too many narrators, this book doesn't have enough.

Early last year, this book led the Newbery sweepstakes, but then it faded fast. Over at Heavy Medal, one of the moderators tried to play nice, while more recently, Origami Yoda's Tom Angleberger declared it the winner of its Battle of the Kids' Books bracket. Curiouser and curiouser. I think my oww dislike was the whole boy-stuff = childhood, but I think it's had its problems finding young readers. Is this a book for pre-adolescents (who may not get it?) or for adolescents (who might find it awfully pretentious and ... yes, childish?) or for adults (not this one)? A conundrum.

[I found the map of Hokey Pokey -- which is in the print book -- at NPR.]

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli
Narrated by Maxwell Glick and Tara Sands
Listening Library, 2013.  5:59

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