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Volume VIII Number 12 . . . . February 15, 2002
Twelve-year-old Charlie Cairns lay stretched on the couch like a plump sausage in an open bun watching TV with one eye open and one eye closed. That's how tired he was, or so he told his mom when she asked him to take the dog for a walk: he couldn't even keep both eyes open to watch TV. But Charlie's mother Bella, a big woman whose voice could blast through a room like a train whistle on a frozen prairie night, wasn't buying it. From the living room, Charlie moaned and mumbled and settled himself into a position that made him look even more exhausted and said no. So his mother put down her coffee cup and went in to get him.
"Charlie!" she said, moving toward the couch like a thundercloud approaching a picnic.
The three oddly assorted friends whom readers met in karate class in Frog Face and the Three Boys are back, still ill-assorted, still not obvious karate material, and with a fresh batch of unrelated problems. Charlie, who never tells the truth if a lie will do instead, has fallen in love with "an older woman", i.e., a 15-year-old girl, after his dog tore one finger off her glove. Sydney, the fighter, is also in love, but with his karate sparring partner, Joey, whose mother has forbidden them to see each other because they are too young to be "going out." Jeffrey, the wimp, (who is nevertheless quite good at karate) is living with his mother and grandparents because his father has flown the coop. Out of the blue, his father has telephoned, leaving a message that he wants Jeffrey's mother to call him about something important. Readers get an awful lot of Charlie's lies before the denouement in which Sydney, and Joey's mother, come to an agreement (the kids can continue to see one another at school and karate, but any kissing will result in Sydney's being beaten to a pulp) and Charlie's friends are required to come to his rescue in order that he not be beaten up by the older girl's boy friend. The path of young love does not run smooth! It also tends to assume mammoth importance in the eyes of those involved. It is, therefore, to the credit both of Charlie and Sydney that they acknowledge that their troubles are on a different, and much smaller, scale than Jeffrey's. He and his mother had both assumed that his father's call was the beginning of a request for a reconciliation, and they have, after days of tears on the mother's part, decided to welcome the advance. Unfortunately, all the father wanted was help in making his new job a success by their buying a new couch from him. There is no resolution to this problem, but Jeffrey is comforted by the sympathy of his friends, and so the book ends.
Charlie is not a lovable character; his lies and inventions are funny for a bit but lose their charm fairly quickly, and the whole plot is too feeble to carry the story along at a sufficiently quick pace. One can't expect an author to write the same book over again, but this one does not live up to the promise of its predecessor.Recommended with reservations.
Mary Thomas works in two elementary schools in Winnipeg and is perhaps too far from the throes of young love to be sufficiently sympathetic!
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.