March 15, 2006

Humiliation? Zits? Junior High shame has "No Effect"

It's a story of that weird time before boys get to be Boys - when they are still skinny, zit-faced and nervous, and not yet the swaggering, obnoxious high schoolers they will become... It's a story of the heartbreak and humor and humiliation of being a boy in junior high. No Effect is a sweet, emotionally observant boy story about... Wrestling, of all things. While I'm not a fan of Hulk Hogan et al, this novel makes high school wrestling seem like a sport with a bit of heart.

Skinny, lightweight little eighth grader Tyler has had his share of take-downs lately. First, his Dad died last year, and he had the worst asthma episode of his life. He hardly remembers the funeral, because he was in a drugged out haze. His Mom's gone mental with the protectiveness, and his best friend, Lymie, thinks he's a chick magnet.

Going into his last year of junior high, Tyler wants to begin to make his mark - to alert the legions of girls that he's on his way, but because of his asthma, his Mom says "no way" to his going out for a sport like wrestling. When he finally talks her into it, he regrets it -- the coach is a sadist.

Things take a strange turn when Tyler's science teacher has a stroke -- right in front of him -- and dies on the way to the hospital. Then the coach freezes on the floor, turns purple, and squeaks "Doctor!" while showing them an exercise during wrestling. With old teachers dropping like flies and new ones cropping up every period -- including his cool next door neighbor Chuckie, who is filling in for the wrestling coach -- Tyler is beginning to believe that his year is a little jinxed.

And then comes Miss Williams, the last substitute teacher - and Tyler believes he's in love.

The last of a funny and heartening trio of books about Tyler and his best friend/best enemy, Lymie, Daniel Hayes' novel about all the things that bounce against an adolescent boy is both amusing and heartfelt, capturing the growing up years of a nice, if delusional, kid named Tyler.

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