Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: Homesick by Kate Klise

If you're looking for a chapter book for your fourth grade class's unit on the 1980s, then Homesick, by Kate Klise, is the book for you!  Of course, nobody teachers units on the 1980s, but wouldn't it be awesome if they did?  With its land lines, game boards, and mix tapes, this book answers the question, what was life like before the internet?  Also, it's about hoarding. 

Benny's dad is a hoarder, and the book begins with his mom insisting that Benny's dad throw something out.  His dad refuses, so his mom gets in the car and starts driving to New Orleans, where she grew up.  It's an attention-grabbing opening, and on top of that, it's written like a radio transcript.  Benny explains that he learned how to write transcripts while hanging out at his small town's radio station, which is basically this aging rocker's kitchen.

The radio station is a cool device--it allows for all kinds of eaves-dropping, on-air arguments, and interviews of local characters.  Much of the town gossip swirls around Benny's dad.  The man is infuriating!  In addition to being a stubborn hoarder who turns their house into a filthy mess, he's also very smart and will stand up to anyone.

There's also sort of an inside joke with the reader--Benny's dad is always going on about how someday there will be a world-wide computer network on which he will sell all the useless junk he's accumulated.  While everyone in the story thinks he's crazy, the reader knows that he's 100% right.  It's called the internet.

So Klise does a good job of making Benny's dad well rounded.  But it's still totally clear that he's not taking care of Benny.  Benny's kind of matter-of-fact about the roaches and the pizza boxes and the smell, but you feel for him.  The other characters' attempts to help Benny change his Dad's behavior are pretty whimsical--possibly excessively whimsical in light of the seriousness of the problem.  One involves a ouija board.  But, hey, they keep the plot rolling!

Personally, I started reading this book in a bookstore, and I bought it because I couldn't put it down.  I'm always looking for books that will (a) hook readers right away and (b) pay off with a slam-bang finish.  I know that's a lot to ask, but I serve a whole school full of reluctant readers, and I need a book to win them over as well as pay them back for the time they invest reading the whole thing.  This book is exactly what I'm talking about.  It starts with a screaming match and ends with--well, I won't give it away.*

This book is a winner not because any one aspect of it is brilliant, but because when you put it all together and shake it up you get a never-boring, something-for-everybody, funny and fast-paced story.

*I basically knew how the book was going to end from reading other reviews, so maybe you already do, too.  Those same reviews said the ending was a little "deus ex machina," but isn't it true that natural disasters appear out of nowhere and put all our other problems in perspective?

1 comment:

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