May 13, 2011

Friday is For the Guys Book Review: Scrawl by Mark Shulman

On Fridays I like to focus on books that would be good for boys.  Not that girls wouldn't enjoy these books, but they are definitely written more for boys.
Today I have a book review of:

Scrawl by Mark Shulman

Book Summary
Tod Munn is a bully. He's tough, but times are even tougher. The wimps have stopped coughing up their lunch money. The administration is cracking down. Then to make things worse, Tod and his friends get busted doing something bad. Something really bad.
Lucky Tod must spend his daily detention in a hot, empty room with Mrs. Woodrow, a no-nonsense guidance counselor. He doesn't know why he's there, but she does. Tod's punishment: to scrawl his story in a beat-up notebook. He can be painfully funny and he can be brutally honest. But can Mrs. Woodrow help Tod stop playing the bad guy before he actually turns into one . . . for real?
Read Tod's notebook for yourself.
My Review
I'm always amazed by a book that has as strong clear voice - one that seems to come off the page and almost walk around the room as a real person.  I found that voice in Scrawl. It was the strength of that voice that pulled me through the rest of the story.

The characters:  The main character Tod is a bully.  There is no way around that.  He takes money from others, scares them - all the traditional stuff.  It would've been really easy to dislike him, but because the book is written from his perspective you understand the why he is doing some of what he does.  It doesn't excuse what he does, but at least you understand and can sympathize some (and I believe Tod would hate me saying I had "sympathy" for him!).  What comes through most for Tod is that deep down you know he's got so much that could be going for him.  He's unbelievably smart.  He can figure out the "game" that people are playing and play right along or pull it right out from them.  It was interesting, as a teacher, to see what he had to say about teachers and how they treat kids.  Tod's thoughts did make me step back and look at my own thoughts. 

The other interesting part about Tod was, that even though he was a bully, he still did these things that were sooooo non-bullyish, and he cared about things that people would never in a million years think he would care about.  His personality was not the stereotypical bully personality all the way through.  The cool part - he knew that and sometimes he'd show it just to throw people off - to remind them that the world isn't always how they think it is.

The Plot:  Much of what put Tod in detention was unclear at the first.  This is mainly because Tod is writing the story, so he doesn't feel the need to explain the whole thing.  I had to piece things together even at the end when more was told.  I did have a bit of a problem following the story some because I got confused as to whether something happened in the past or just now. 

The story is much more character driven than plot driven, so although you do see Tod conflicted with what to do I felt it was much more focused on who Tod was and the question of who he was going to be.  Every conflict in the story seemed to push that question to the front.  What I liked about this and the plot over all was that it had a clear wrapped up ending for the current situation but not for Tod's life over-all.  It didn't end like a Disney movie.  It ended in reality, and that I liked.

One side note about the ending - the very end there is a whole thing about how something is worded. I had to read it several times to get it exactly.  I do worry that some readers (younger ones) might not get that at all and then miss some of the point of the story.

Final thought:  Tod's voice was so strong it was like I was listening to him read his notebook!
Best stick-with-you image:  The end of the play
Best for readers who:  Like stories that are more about a character and less about a story
Best for ages: 13+
Other books or authors that are similar: Walter Dean Myers

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