Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review: Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Book: Hokey Pokey
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Published: January 8, 2013
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

Hokey Pokey is a wild and wonderful desert place, where kids run wild and there’s not an adult to be found. The king of them all is Jack, who has the fastest bike, the kindest heart, and the direst nemesis.

Then one day, Jack wakes up to find that his beloved bike, Scramjet, has been taken. Surely the evil girl Jubilee is the culprit, isn’t she? But as the day progresses, Jack begins to understand that his bike disappeared for a different reason. More, he comes to realize that it’s almost time for him to leave Hokey Pokey. But where will he go from there?

This is a weird little book. Fables often are. Spinelli also uses the surroundings, a Wild West brand of Never-Neverland, and various oddball constructions and word combinations to reinforce the outlandish feel of the book, and the notion that the world of childhood is set apart from the rest of the world, and maybe from the rest of your life.

Overly idealized? You could make a case for that. But we can argue about adult concepts of kids' understanding of the world some other time. That's not what the book is really about. It’s about the moment when you start to leave childhood behind, but instead of rushing forward to what’s next, this book dwells on what’s being left behind, and the gentle melancholy that comes when you realize that you've outgrown your skin when you weren't looking. The wars, the friendships, the simple pleasures and fears of childhood are all falling away.

It also examines the reactions of those around Jack as they see him change and grow beyond them. His two best friends, the little kids who idolize him, even Jubilee, whose nemesis status fades over the course of the day, realize that he's drifting away and react in their own ways that ring true.

It won’t be a slam dunk for every kid. In fact, I kind of want to try this out on a real kid before I make any conclusions on its likely appeal. (And side note: that cover? No. It looks like a pretentious adult literary novel, maybe about a kidnapped child or something. Just . . . no.) But I have the feeling that the right kid will read this book with a growing sense of recognition, either for what he is going through at the moment, or for what she passed through a long time ago and is only now realizing that it was a major shift in her life.


A Journey Illustrated said...

(I just popped in from the Comment Challenge.) I may have to check this one out. The descriptions in your review are intriguing - besides, I'm a fan of weird little books!

Joanna said...

And that's the beauty, even if it only moves a handful of kids, that's good enough!

Unknown said...

I'm anxious to read this one - and totally agree about the cover, which definitely seems to have more adult than kid appeal!

CS Perryess said...

Great comments on the skewed adult's eye view of younger readers. One thing I love about Spinelli is that he respects his readers. He fully expects them to pick up on his hints & move forward. Bravo to that.

Ms. Yingling said...

At my school, it's not enough if it just moves a couple of kids. We have a great public library that will send books right over to us. I am going to pass on this one.

Bibliovore said...

Thanks for stopping in, guys!

CS - I do appreciate that in an author, the expectation of nimble wits on the part of the reader so they write challenging storylines.

Ms. Y - I read your review before I got to this one, so I was somewhat doubtful about it. Luckily public libraries, especially larger systems, can afford to get one or two weird little books. That's a nifty arrangement you have with your local public library . . . was it already in place or did you set it up?

molly wetta said...

Great review! I haven't read any Spinelli--a lot of teens that frequent my library had to read Stargirl in school, and hated it, so I've never given him a shot, but this review makes this book sound intriguing. Going in with the right expectations might help me enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!

PragmaticMom said...

My daughter and I just saw Jerry Spinelli speak with Clare Vanderpool and he talked about Hokey Pokey. It sounds great. I am a big fan of his work and we were thrilled to get him to sign a copy of his new book.

Megan Maynor said...

Thanks for the review. Just saw this in the book store. I'm intrigued... I wonder if you really "get" the leaving Neverland feeling when you're that close to it? Like you, I'll be curious to see how kids take to the story.