Back to School with Sophomores and Other Oxymorons

BookendsCindy: Now that it is August, I can face the back-to-school sales that have been irritating me since July 1st. I love my job, but I also rely on the summer months of reading, reflection, and recharging to prepare me for the coming year. Come to think of it, a July back-to-school sale is an oxymoron! I made an exception to my July rules by reading David Lubar’s Sophomores and Other Oxymorons (Aug. 2015), a sequel to the highly popular Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (2005). That book is celebrating its 10th anniversary and we can add this frolicking, fresh follow-up to the fun! (Alliteration—one of the easy figures of speech studied in Mrs. Gilroy’s English class).

Sophomores and Other OxymoronsScott Hudson is a true sophomore. He’s a little more confident than last year when he was a freshman, but his hubris sets him up for continual smackdowns from teachers and classmates. There are new challenges in biology: to eat lunch or to make it through dissection without losing lunch, for starters. He is still on the school newspaper (until ruled academically ineligible) and he’s still writing in a journal for his baby brother. There’s a subplot about school funding and the importance of voting in local elections and another about the biology teacher being fired for refusing to teach Intelligent Design. There’s more than grammar and word choices at play here. By the end of the year, Scott feels that he and his brother have both grown up a little and both have hopes of turning into “an actual human being.”

Listening to the GOP candidates misuse “less” instead of “fewer”
in last week’s debate just reinforces how much we need Lubar
to keep up the good-grammar fight.

Fans of the first book will remember the Tom Swifties—plays on words using dialogue attributes. Scott volunteers to write a weekly puzzle for the school newspaper, each an unfinished Tom Swiftie with the answer to be revealed in the next issue. Teens who love wordplay, too, will enjoy trying to guess the answer to puzzles like this one:

“I have my father’s eyes,” John Peter said _____________.

Lubar gives the answer, “inherently.”  Huh. I had guessed, “I have my father’s eyes,” John Peter said genially.

I hope this is not the penultimate title in the series. I will happily follow Scott through all four years of high school and into his first college English class. Listening to the GOP candidates misuse “less” instead of “fewer” in last week’s debate just reinforces how much we need Lubar to keep up the good-grammar fight. Humorous fiction is top on my students’ request lists, even more than dystopias, and Lubar is to be lauded for his linguistic laughs. His riff on NaNoWriMo stress is fabulous. Sophomores and Other Oxymorons publishes August 18th, and a full Booklist review is coming soon. Be sure to have multiple copies on your back-to-school shopping list.

Lynn: Word nerds rejoice! Lubar’s return to the halls of Zenger High is as funny and sweet as Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie. Scott continues his journal, explaining high school to his baby brother while working up the nerve to ask Lee for a date, save the school paper, and survive his AP English teacher. Along the way he takes a freshman under his wing, challenges the school board, helps his Dad achieve his dream and come to terms with what it means to be that oxymoronic term, a sophomore.

Lubar has a lot of fun with word play, grammar, and observations on education, politics and the art of writing. You will, too. I leave with a lovely example of the fun.

Question: How can you tell if you’re near a murder?

Answer: Probably caws.



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.

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