Thursday, August 19, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "The Boy Who Owned the School" by Gary Paulsen

You know when you're little you don't really pay too much attention to authors unless you really love the book? Or at least don't know who the authors are? This was what happened with me when I read The Boy Who Owned the School. I hadn't read any Gary Paulsen before and thus it didn't register that, hey, this book was written by the guy who wrote Hatchet (which I only read recently).

I think I originally read this for a book report on a humor book. Remember those? Vague descriptions of what type of book to read for the report? Yeah, that stunk to wade through everything to pick something that fit the teacher's idea of what a humor book (or whatever) should be. I didn't remember a whole lot of this, except for the climactic scene which I remembered with perfect clarity, for some reason.

I found this again at the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale (which, if you're near Ithaca, NY you should totally check out) and picked it up on a whim.

Without further ramblings from me, here is this week's Throwback Thursday:

Author: Gary Paulsen
Publisher: Dell Yearling, 1990
Where I got it: As I mentioned above, the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale.

Disaster seems to follow Jacob Freisten around, especially when people pay attention to him. As a result, he does his best to stay unnoticed at all times, with mixed results. This is all complicated by the fact that a) his sister is a drop-dead gorgeous beauty queen who calls him Buttwad (gross), and b) he is in love with the most popular girl in school, Maria Tresser.

Unfortunately, he is noticed by his English teacher, who tells him he's in danger of failing her class. She gives him the chance to save himself with extra credit by working the fog machine in the school's production of The Wizard of Oz, for which Maria just happens to be playing the Wicked Witch. He just wants to get through this without humiliating himself in front of the girl of his dreams (again), but he worries he's destined for failure in all he does.

I didn't remember this story being so dark. I don't know if it was because I didn't notice it when I was younger, or if I even understood what was happening, but there are a lot of questionable elements in Jacob's family life. Jacob lives in the basement, which is usually so humid that his posters refuse to stay on the wall, while his sister gets a huge room upstairs, not only with a real bed (Jacob has a cot) but with a couch too. His parents concentrate almost completely on his sister, and sort of neglect Jacob. I know it was meant to be presented as humorous, what with Murphy's law reigning supreme, but still. I certainly wouldn't want to be Jacob.

I also was disturbed by the light way in which Paulsen throws in certain issues. Jacob's parents have a certain penchant for drink ("Not enough to be alcoholics, and they didn't abuse him, but it was enough so that he didn't really know them except as drinkers" [7]). They pretty much drink all the time. I like wine as much as the next person, but I'm not constantly with a glass in my hand. Paulsen also throws in (so quickly you almost don't catch it) that Jacob has thought about suicide (51).

Again, I know this is meant to be an exaggeration and that it's meant to be funny because EVERYTHING goes wrong for him, but it still just rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not saying don't let your kids read this, I'm just saying I didn't care for it that much.


Just so you know, everything turns out just fine in the end, with some minor (okay, maybe major) mishaps during the performance. He gets the girl, his mom pays him some attention, and he has a better life than before the play. Everyone is happy.

This was kind of funny, but not one I'd recommend, to be honest. Paulsen has written some great stuff, but I just wasn't feeling this one.

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