What promised to be Richie’s best summer ever is turning into one giant disaster thanks to A-Number-One Nerd, Chuck.
So, the basic questions I start with when writing these pieces is “How does this story reflect the time in which it was written?” and the follow-up “Why was this deemed a suitable subject matter at the time for a YA readership?” (Sometimes the latter comes out more as ‘WHY WHY OH GOD WHY WOULD THIS EVER BE DEEMED A SUITABLE SUBJECT MATTER FOR ANYONE???’)
My thought-process regarding this one became a little more complicated as I read on:
- This book. I remember this one. It was kind of obsessed with dicks, wasn’t it? (Spoilers: I remembered correctly)
- Wait this is a Dell Yearling? Isn’t this imprint supposed to be for younger readers? (Spoilers: yes, age 8-12)
- Why is everyone in this book a horrible jerk? If you are going to write a book for grade-school students that is obsessed with dicks, shouldn’t it at least have a redemption arc?
- Am I getting cranky in my old age? Does all literature have to be aspirational? Wasn’t I just congratulating Francine Pascal on creating realistic teenage characters who realistically are jerks? Remember, the jerks go unpunished in, say, Blubber, and you don’t complain about the ethical implications there…
- Am I overthinking this? Maybe this book is just badly written. And obsessed with dicks.
The Plot: 13 year old Richie is convinced that his summer at camp is going to be ruined because his parents are insisting he make nice with new kid in town, Chuckie Collins, who is “a nerd, a clod, a turkey, a spaz, a leech, an itch.” He makes a preemptive strike at separating himself from Chuckie during the final days of 7th grade by pushing him around, threatening to beat him up and calling him “a queer” at every opportunity.
Richie has been attending summer camp his entire life, and expects a certain level of respect and privilege to be bestowed upon him now that he is in the oldest group of campers. When things don’t go his way he whines non-stop about how it is always someone else’s fault.
I kicked the wall in disgust. And how did I get placed in right field? Anyone knows that the kids that can’t catch play right field. I’m not going to play right field.
Somehow I let a pass from Fred slip between my fingers and go out of bounds.
“The ball took a bad hop, Fred. It wasn’t my fault.”
His torment of Chuckie is also non-stop, especially since they keep getting thrown together for activities, including the moonlight boat trip pictured on the cover, during which Chuckie ruins Richie’s chance at “scoring” with a girl due to seasickness.
When a rumor starts around camp that Chuckie actually saved him from drowning, Richie redoubles his efforts which results in a complicated prank involving an urban legend about a one-armed hobo… blah, blah, goes wrong, Richie’s counselor tries and fails to teach valuable lesson about being a bully…
Of course this is all leading up to the All-Camp Color War, and the fact that Richie is still assuming that he’ll be appointed a team captain. He’s not, which gives him yet another thing to whine about being unfair.
He does lead his team to victory in the end, successfully capturing the rival team’s flag… because Chuckie lets him:
He let me go. That turkey let me go. He had to. He was looking right at me. I ran toward the base and all the reds rushed up to meet me. They lifted me high in the air and cheered.
Richie gains zero self-awareness and continues being a jerk. The End.
I guess I should say something about all of the dicks? Everyone in this book is obsessed about talking about their dick. Richie is also obsessed with proving that he is not “a queer”, which between all of the dicks and his swearing off of girls…
Those girls are as weird as Chuck. That’s it for me and girls.
…which I would say is kinda, you know, sublimated, but it’s really not. It’s just stupid.
I guess I’d usually be in favor of a book that deals frankly with the topic, but I think I was right the first time: this is just badly written.
Meta! Department: At one point Richie wishes there was a book with a chart that would tell him how big his dick is supposed to be. Author (and psychiatrist) (!!!!) Schwartz apparently took it upon himself to write one.