Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Third Session

Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud Winger - Andrew  Smith


This last Guys Read sessions were quite interesting- the choices for this week were each controversial with the groups, drawing very different responses from the readers. Some loved them, others hated them but in most cases, they did finish reading them! That's always a good sign. 




For the juniors, the choice was Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, another flight of awesome fancy from Gaiman. This was definitely a fun little book that really delves into Gaiman's favorite themes of the power of storytelling and imagination. After a Dad leaves his children one morning to buy some milk for their cereal from the corner store, he leaves for what seems like a long time to the kids. Upon his arrival, he excuses his tardiness on getting their breakfast by regaling them with a wild tale of aliens, pirates, dinosaur inventors, and time travel. Fortunately, he is able to preserve the milk throughout all his adventures, and it even proves to save the world. The charmingly quirky and zany illustrations that accompanied the stories also was a crowd favorite, with kids showing each other their favorites. 


This was the exception of the day; the kids were, in general, really engaged in the story and seemed quite excited with all of its silly, over the top elements, especially the milk. For some reason, they loved the milk- with elements to interest just about any kid. Also, the theme of storytelling and whether or not it matters if the Dad was really telling the truth or not, or if he was just good at telling stories gave the kids some discussion. Of course, they were a bit distracted with storytelling themselves that day, recalling their favorite parts of Inside Out to each other. The little indoor obstacle course I made, to be completed while holding a milk jug, did keep their attention, though.  




The middle school kids read The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, the first in the Lockwood and Company series, which was probably my favorite of the book I've read for the groups so far, proved a bit more divisive among the guys. This was a popular choice with Guys Read groups in the county, this is the second series by Stroud, after the Bartimeaus stories (which I also loved), and follow in the classic British young adult fantasy genre, with some of the kids comparing it to Harry Potter (an apt description, I feel). 


Lockwood and Company differs from Harry Potter, though, in pure spookiness. Though there were some scary moments in HP, this is a series about the Problem, the euphemism for the plague of ghosts currently bedeviling the UK. From merely frightening Type 1s to horrifying Type 2s, the only way to combat these spirits are Agents, generally prepubescent children who still have the psychic sensitivity to perceive what the ghosts need and how to put them down for good. There were some scenes that unnerved even me, so I can definitely see why some of the kids were a bit put off. 


A few said they definitely preferred Zombie Baseball Beatdown, that it was just more fun all around, but there were others who really enjoyed The Screaming Staircase. It was funny that those who did not like The Screaming Staircase started by beating around the bush, saying that it was too boring or cheesy, but soon admitted that it just plain scared them! One kid claimed it gave him nightmares, in particular the infamous Red Room. On the other hand, other guys rated it as their favorite so far, and appreciated the action-packed nature of the story. Personally, I really loved the spooky world Stroud creates, complete with a glossary of ghost knowledge and terms. I've read the next in the series and am waiting with bated breath for the upcoming finale. 




While both the previous choices were similar in being fantasies in the old English tradition, the teen's choice was an All-American YA. My sister, over at I'm Reading Comeeks, is a huge fan of the work of Andrew Smith and has read most of his stuff, but this was the first of his books I've had the pleasure of reading. I'll definitely go for more. Like The Screaming Staircase, though, this had a bit of a mixed reaction in the group.


From what I've come to understand about Smith's work, he can be quite controversial, and this book may be among his "tamer" offerings. Following the precocious 14 year old horndog Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, as he plays rugby at a prestigious Pacific Northwest boarding school. Having been moved up two grades, he finds himself a junior two years younger than anyone else, and seriously crushing on his best friend, the smart and beautiful Annie Altman. It's all pretty lighthearted as Winger tries to improve his life, becomes friends with the charming, openly gay rugby player Joe, and gets up to some hilarious shenanigans. There are friendships found and broken, pranks pulled, balls kicked (in more ways than one); Winger's self-depreciating comics add even more humor to the story, and the ending comes out of nowhere with a sucker punch to the gut just when you least expect it.  


Winger definitely pats himself on the back for being such a good guy for accepting Joe's sexuality, even as he is a sexist himself. I think that Ryan Dean's self perception of himself and his sexist and homophobic actions, even as he loves his friends Joe and Annie offers a lot of opportunity for discussion, the tragic ending notwithstanding. A few of the kids really appreciated what they felt was the realism of the story, seeming to identify with Ryan Dean's struggles and feelings, with the word "amazing" being tossed around.


However, there were others who found the entire book inappropriate and did not enjoy it. In the end, the main debate focused around the strong language of the novel. You see, Smith does not pull his punches when it comes to the language of his characters, who talk, it's true, like many high school students, including profanity. This was a bit much for some of the guy's, who felt there was too much swearing for them. Other members argued this added to the realism of the story, so in the end it was agreed that that Winger's realism was what made it inappropriate for them.   


One more session to go!


*Musical theme for entry: "Dinosaur Stomp!," Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Uncrustable, 2010