Sunday, July 22
by Andrew Clements
Simon and Schuster 2007
It's boys versus girls in a 48 hour dare to see who can talk the least.
The agreement is made during lunch when Dave, who had gone the entire morning without speaking as an experiment, reaches his boiling point when Lynsey blathers on and on about a sweater at the mall. "Don't you ever shut up," he effectively says, prompting the inevitable argument over which gender talks the most. Finally Dave throws down the gauntlet, betting the girls that they couldn't go two whole days without talking. One handshake later the contest is on.
The rules are simple: beginning at lunch the next day, and for the following 48 hours, the fifth graders at Laketon Elementary will not talk. An exception is made for school where they are permitted only to answer a direct question from the school faculty and staff and they can only answer in three-word sentences. Additional words uttered beyond the first three are marked down as demerits, the side with the least being the winner. And since the contest extends outside of school this includes the school bus and home. Overnight infractions incurred out of earshot of other students are reported on the honor system to their respective captains Dave and Lynsey the following day.
Early on there are a couple of accidental outbursts from students who clearly were acting in the moment but quickly the students adapt and adjust. In the classroom the teachers are a little confused by their student's inability to express themselves in anything other than broken or fragment sentences, and they are even more baffled to find the halls absolutely silent during the passing period. While one teachers is frustrated that the kids seem to be playing a game with her another finds the exercise perfect fodder for his masters thesis in the way communication, language and education fit together. The science teacher intercepts a note between students that explains the situation and after considering informing the other faculty decides instead to let them figure it out on their own.
After a de facto faculty meeting to discuss the situation the principal elects to hold an assembly the next day and inform the students that the game or contest or whatever has officially ended, citing the disruption in school. And it appears that the students are going along with her decision but in the end they are determined not to let it go. The inevitable showdown occurs in the lunchroom when the principal figures out Danny is the ringleader, best to use in her divide-and-conquer attack. When pushed to defend himself he exceeds his three word limit by looking at his fellow students and shouting defiantly You have the right to remain silent! Stunned, the principal returns to her office to rethink both her position and her strategy.
Do I have to tell you how it ends? Do you think one side wins over the other? Even if you can guess the inevitable outcome readers will enjoy seeing how it all plays out, though I'm not convinced the target audience will buy the sudden solidarity among the boys and girls that comes as a result.
Clements gets off to a rough start in the book, using a couple of chapters with shifting time lines to hook readers. I found it a bit confusing and finally gave up trying to figure out what events took place when hoping for the best. A few chapters in it chugs along and holds pretty true to a straight narrative. I know I kept thinking "C'mon, let's get the story rolling" and wondered if less sturdy readers would get as confused and give up before getting to what is an otherwise fun little ride.
Can I also say a little Hooray! for a cover that doesn't follow in the style of the Clements' covers previously illustrated by Brian Sleznick? You know, the kid holding something at arms' distance partially covering their face? Yeah, gone. It makes it hard for kids to recognize a Clements book on site -- Ooo, look! Another book by that Frindle guy! -- but at the same time it opens up the book to readers who might have shied away from those other titles because they'd feel like they were a series and had to start from the beginning. That's one of those questions of brand, where you want readers to recognize a book on sight but you have to be careful you aren't making them look too serial.
That's all I got on this one. It's got humor, Gandhi, a battle of the sexes, and adults making asses of themselves. What more could a kid want in a light read?