Friday, February 19, 2010

The Saddest Funny Book I've Ever Read

A couple of months ago I decided that the 4th-6th grade book club I lead would pick their own book for the month of February. Terming it "funny February" I solicited suggestions for a humourous book for the month. One of the kids, a 5th grader, suggested the book "I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President", by Josh Lieb. Declaring it the "funniest book he'd ever read" he is already re-reading it in anticipation of book club.

So, today. Today, I picked up the book and started reading it--and rather than finding it to be funny I am finding it to be a book that reflects, most accurately, some painful realities: the cruelty young people can have for each other; the pain that those who do not fit the norm experience; and the fantasies of a hurting young boy made manifest on the page. Granted, I am only on chapter 8, but as I read I remember the pain of late elementary and middle school where I felt a degree of alienation that left me in tears on a regular basis. I went through my day feeling out of sync with my peers and filled with the vague sense that I was being laughed at--yet didn't know why.

Back to the book...

Oliver Watson is a self described "evil genius" whose machinations are cleverly hidden behind the mask of stupidity he has intentionally chosen to don. A chubby kid who is literally the laughing stock of his peers--so seemingly dim witted that even the teachers at school scorn and pity him--he has created a world of his own in which he reigns supreme with every wish granted, and every bully punished. The tone is snarky and dark--and Oliver's alienation more than tragic. The humor comes from the revenge he extracts and the contempt with which he holds all those around him.

Rich fodder for young people who dream of revenge...and are longing for the kind of unconditional love that only Oliver's mother and dog offer.

It reminds me most deeply of my experience in mid-elementary school. Usually alone on the playground at recess I smarted from being excluded and different. The relentless teasing of my class mates didn't end when I went home--to siblings who were all to eager to point out the hint of a lisp I still carried and to call my solid build "fat". I desperately wanted to get back at them for their cruelty but actual action was beyond me. One day at recess I decided to imagine a world in which I had a supersonic scream--a scream so piercing and awful that anyone who was mean to me within range would fall down dead (I think I remember imagining blood pouring from their ears). So, there I was, spinning around in circles. Screaming at the top of my lungs with my eyes closed. Imagining the bodies falling around me. Soon thereafter, the bell rang and I headed back to class.

So, rather than funny, I find this book sad. And, I am saddened for the young people who's screams are not heard and who long for revenge in the midst of their own powerlessness.

1 comment:

monkfishi said...

I was a relatively unimaginative child: I was a batman-esque superhero who could pummel my tormentors with cunning tactics and pint sized machines of war. The machines are still drawn in notebooks scattered around my house and I distinctly remember being tripped while executing one of my tactics (most of them resulted in more ridicule than results). Those dreams stuck with me until high school and I still want to be an inventor/mad scientist when I grow up. I'm going to have to find this book.

#GC79; 9B 2018

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