“13” by Jason Robert Brown and Dan Elish

21 Apr


It looks like "13" which the HarperCollins folks were kind enough to send to me (thanks!), is the novelization of a musical. Wow, a musical about a soon-to-be 13 year old who, mere months before his bar mitzvah, moves from bustling New York City to sleepy Appleton, Indiana? Sounds different, right? I checked out the entry on the wikipedia site, and it seems that the musical will be hitting Chester, CT soon. Cool.

In the meantime, "13" — the book, that is — is a sweet, silly, campy story that should be well received by all you middle school folks. We meet Evan Goldman just as he and his mom are driving off to Appleton, following the breakup of his parents' marriage. As you might imagine, Evan is not so keen on leaving all his friends in New York City for some unknown hick town in the midwest.

While he's lucky to make a fast friend in the quirky, bookish Patrice, Evan soon learns that if he wants to be cool in Appleton — and, just as importantly, if he wants anyone to attend his bar mitzvah out there — he'd better get in tight with football hero Brett Connelly. Luckily, Brett quickly pulls Evan (inexplicably relabeled "Brain") into the popular crew, and everything seems great. Except … not so fast. Turns out God-like Brett and most of his pals are thoroughly obnoxious kids, the kind who make fun of classmates, dole out wedgies, and pressure each other into doing stupid things. While Evan is smart enough to see the truth, he can't help but keep his mouth shut. Yes, on the one hand, they're jerks. But they're popular jerks, and Evan needs bar mitzvah guests! Evan figures that if being popular means turning his back on Patrice and selling out his smart, creepy, but probably harmless neighbor Archie, then so be it. At least his bar mitzvah will be well attended.

Although you can probably see where this is going — raise a hand if you think Evan might end up with no friends at all — I liked that "13" never takes itself too seriously. It's definitely not one of those hyper realistic, "boy stands up to bullies" books, which is a relief. Sometimes you just want to read something fun. "13" fits that description perfectly, as it's light and breezy with lots of over-the-top scenes. Need examples? Ok. How about when physically disabled Archie decks himself out in a shiny purple suit for the gore flick Bloodmaster, determined to kiss head cheerleader Kendra. Or, my personal favorite, when a lovestruck Brett loses focus during a football game and is saved only when the crowd picks up on his "tongue" (as in kissing!) chant. I thought all this silliness worked very well in keeping the story zipping along and, in all likelihood, in maintaining the interest of its younger target audience. I'd recommend this clean, goofy and ultimately winning story to boys and girls in 5th grade and up. Look for it in July, and happy reading!

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Posted by on April 21, 2008 in Uncategorized


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