Kristen Tracy and Funny Books

66177059Lynn: Cindy and I may differ on our favorite genres but we are in complete agreement about funny books.  It is REALLY hard to write funny books and we LOVE them.  Kristen Tracy writes really funny books and today we are going to talk about two of them.  I get to start with The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter (Random/Delacorte 2011).  11-year-old Bessica can’t wait to leave dorky elementary school behind and storm middle school with her best friend, Sylvia.  They’ve chosen a different middle school from most of their classmates and in a further bid to reinvent themselves as cool, they get matching haircuts.  As usual, Sylvia was not so sure about the wisdom of the reinventions.

She wasn’t the kind of person who would go down in history for leading a revolution where people burned flags or bras.  She was the kind of person who would check with other people (several times) about what they thought…

As always Bessica sweeps poor Sylvia along like a tidal wave and this time the haircuts are a disaster.  It is the last straw for Sylvia’s overly protective mother and she enrolls Sylvia in a different school leaving Bessica to flounder on her own.  To make matters worse, Bessica’s beloved grandmother takes off on a 6-week trip in a Winnebago!  Bessica is enthusiastic but utterly 6th-grade naive and by the end of the first day of school she has encountered psycho-bullies, offended a hall monitor, gotten her name written on the board by a teacher and had to eat lunch by herself in the hallway.

Bessica careens from one disaster to another in her earnest attempts to fit in and I alternated between laughing and wincing as my inner-middle-schooler related to every bit of Bessica’s heart-felt misery.  Irrepressible Bessica believably comes to understand that middle school success and her own happiness will come through being herself.  Our middle schoolers are loving this!  Let me just tease you a little by saying that the bear mascot scenes will have you laughing till you cry!

Cindy: Tracy’s trademark humor is laced throughout a survival adventure in Sharks & Boys (Disney/Hyperion 2011). She had me laughing about bear attack survival tips in her first novel, Lost It, and now her protagonist, Enid, tries to dredge up any shark facts she can remember from the one time she “attempted to watch Shark Week.” Of the 8 teens floating in a raft after their boat sinks in a storm, Enid is the only girl, having stowed aboard to spy on boyfriend Wick who recently suggested they take a break. The 8 teens are all pairs of twins that know each other from the Twin Studies program they have attended together for years. One thing they learn as they float for days awaiting rescue is that they really don’t know each other (or themselves) as well as they thought.

Munny is the smartest of the group, according to the Twin Studies’ IQ tests and shares his knowledge about survival, previous ship wrecks, sharks, or whatever. When one of the guys questions him about how he knows all this random stuff, he says:

After we read Life of Pi in Culture Club, I got real interested in sea distasters…It’s called utilizing your local library in order to pursue your interests. I highly recommend it.

He even tells the story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and references one of my favorite teen nonfiction titles, Left for Dead, about the teen who uses his history day project to ultimately clear the name of the court martialed captain of the Indianapolis.

From the opening pages where Enid is shaping marzipan sharks and sea creatures for a marine-themed wedding cake to the closing pages of rescue of the survivors, there is humor infused in the drama and relationship building. At one point as dehydration and exhaustion are bringing on hallucinations with everyone, Enid imagines that Richard Nixon and his dog Checkers show up to give her a pep talk. Part of his advice:

Remember what I said about living an honorable life. It matters. Everything you say and do matters. Trust me.

As Enid struggles with some heavy issues in her life (her father is repeatedly unfaithful for one) Tracy keeps the reader laughing with details like Enid’s failed attempt to rescue a llama. Yes. A llama. And, Kristen, I have an answer for Enid’s question, “This has happened before, right?…We can’t be the first people whose boat sank?”

Um, no. You’re not, Enid. Here’s our boat a few summers ago, sunk in Lake Michigan. But don’t ask. My husband is not ready to laugh about it yet. Me? I’m thankful for funny books that keep me laughing through life’s real disasters.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Kristen Tracy and Funny Books"

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  1. lisa@lisamcmann.com' Lisa McMann says:

    Wait — you SANK your BOAT? Ha! (I say this with love)

    I absolutely love funny books too and will check these out. Watch for Eileen Cook’s UNRAVELING ISOBEL in spring 2012 (and check out her other books) for great humorous YA, and watch for debut MG author Joanne Levy’s SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE coming from Bloomsbury in June 2012. These writers make me laugh and laugh.

  2. Aren’t you glad to learn this AFTER we took YOU for a ride? Kristen has ridden in our boat too…before the sinking so I can take no credit for her plot.

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