July 26, 2014

The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez - by Peter Johnson

This book was so much better than I expected.  It's all about a seventh-grade boy with an odd family, and ailing grandfather, and a curse: The cutest girl in his school is out to get him.  The final challenge: A poetry contest.  Yes, this seems a bit odd, but it totally works in this creative and captivating story.

Meet the Alvarez family: Benny's energetic younger brother Crash, his negative and oddball dad, his overly optimistic mom, his lovable big sister (who makes the best chicken noodle soup on Earth), his spaz dog Spot, and Benny himself, who his mom calls "Mr. Negativity."  It's true that he looks at the world as a glass half-empty, but in his mind, if you're expecting the worst, it's hard to be disappointed!  When a combination of surprising events happen, Benny is forced to finally decide whether he's going to be negative or positive, as his future and friendships hang in the balance.

The plot is tight, though this is far from an action/adventure book.  It's a school/family/friendship story about a believable and likable kid with everyday problems, who finds his own inner strength (with a little help from friends and family) to save the day at the end.  There's poetry, heavy use of a thesaurus, lots of humor, a bit of blushing (well, it's not Benny's fault he can't ever seem to look Claudine in the eyes!), and some more serious topics too.  It's a rewarding read that will touch both your funny bone and your thoughtful side.

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