________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007



Chris McMahen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
154 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-710-1.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Jonine Bergen.

***½  /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


I knew this was a weird town, but this was more than weird. This was creepy! I hated to imagine what was in the Dumpster and why it wanted out. I'd seen street people in Victoria going through Dumpsters, rummaging for old pop cans or half-eaten hamburgers. But there was a big difference between rummaging through a Dumpster in Victoria and actually living inside a Dumpster in the freezing winter in this crummy little town.          

Whatever was inside had to be ugly. I mean, really ugly. Bad breath that smelled like pig manure. Fingernails long enough to reach up your nostrils and pole you in the brain. Greeny-yellowy-slimy teeth that had never been brushed. Ever. Ears so full of dirt, plants were sprouting out. Bloodshot eyes that looked in two separate directions at once. Armpits that smelled like broken sewer pipes. Ugliness, smelliness, all kings of contagious diseases. What else would you expect from something that survived on a diet of rotten lunches, old math worksheets, plastic wrappers, coffee grounds, apple cores, empty drink boxes, snotty tissues and other tasty morsel!

Arlo is upset - really upset - that his mother is forcing him to move from perfect Victoria, British Columbia, to East Bend, Alberta. Victoria is great, in Arlo's eyes; after all, it was in Victoria that he was toilet-trained and spent his first 6 1/2 years of school. What does East Bend have to offer him? Snow and hockey. Arlo explains, "It was so cold, I thought my eyeballs were going to freeze solid and roll out of their sockets." But worse than the cold is the realization that everyone plays hockey and he is the only kid in Canada that can't skate. He knows that living in East Bend is going to be a disaster. And his first day at school proves it.

     In Klutzhood, by Chris McMahen, Arlo tells the reader his own story with all the emotion and exaggeration of a frustrated 12-year-old. McMahen's humorous writing style will open the reader's eyes to the very real conflict felt by students who want to belong but don't really know how. Arlo's use of hyperbole adds humour while deftly depicting how easily a youth can find himself making uncomfortable decisions in an effort to fit in, or, in Arlo's perspective, in an effort not to be an outcast. 

     To avoid this fate worse than death, Arlo lies, evades and eventually tries some forbidden stunts in the hopes of becoming a Dumpster Dude - a group that will accept his hockey deficiencies. How Arlo is able to get himself out of his uncomfortable predicament and find a place in his new school is hilarious.

     Chris McMahen's plot is driven entirely by Arlo's perceptions, flawed though they may be. This technique is particularly effective in creating tension and suspense in the plot. I wanted to see if Arlo would give the other students a chance to accept him before he passed the trials and became a Dumpster Dude.

     My co-reviewer is an eight-year-old boy who does not play hockey. He said that he doesn't like playing hockey at school either because he doesn't want to look stupid. He indicated that he really liked Arlo and thought that he was funny. He gave Klutzhood four stars. Klutzhood has the potential to be the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for the 8-12 crowd.

Highly Recommended.

Jonine Bergen works at Westdale Junior High in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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