CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 32. . . April 28, 2017
On the cusp of finishing fifth grade, 11-year-old Henry is feeling out of sorts with the world. The arrival of his baby brother Sam has changed everything; his mom has just received a promotion and will have to travel for work, and his best friend Max is changing as well. Max has been Henry’s best friend since Kindergarten, and yet he’s started making fun of Henry’s clothes and calling him names at school. Max has a new group of friends, including Gretchen Thorn (a girl!), he’s in the Chess Club, and his parents are sending him to camp for the summer. Henry‘s parents won’t send him to camp, and he is definitely not looking forward to a summer at home with his Dad and Sam while his mom is working in Las Vegas.
Over the summer, Henry receives emails from Max but doesn’t reply at first. Hurt by Max’s behaviour at school, Henry is relieved to hear that Max is not enjoying coed camp and misses his friend. Forced into a “staycation” with Sam and his dad, Henry is surprised to find that he enjoys their company and the backyard campouts and outings with his Poppy and Poppy’s dog Rupert. Henry even strikes up a new friendship with Gretchen Thorn. Following through on his fifth-grade teacher’s parting advice to “make mistakes”, Henry spends the summer rediscovering his family and learning what it means to accept yourself and take responsibility for your actions. He even resumes his friendship with Max as they re-connect via email.
Larsen has crafted a gentle and authentic story of a boy coming of age and coming to terms with changes within himself and his friends at a very pivotal age. The language in Dingus rings true; it is an accurate depiction of a young boy struggling to mature while hesitant to leave boyhood behind. Larsen depicts a loving family, not without its all too human flaws, governed by a stay-at-home dad and involved grandparent. Henry is a likeable boy facing universal issues of childhood that readers will relate to regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, social status or family dynamic. Dingus would work well as a whole class middle grade chapter book read-aloud, an introduction to classroom discussion on bullying and friendship or a title to encourage young male readers. A “nice” read, in the best sense of the word.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. She is not sure whether she is a dingus or a doofus.
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