Back in the 1960s my Mom told me that my facial features were classic. Classic? What did that mean? I'm sure that would have been fine if I had been living in ancient Rome or Greece rather than attending junior high school. We all know middle school, junior high school, high school, those preteen and teen years can be touch and go, a whole lot of the time; trying to figure out who you are, liking yourself on the inside and outside.
Andrew Clements, author of Frindle, The Landry News, The Last Holiday Concert, and No Talking (among many others), clearly has a handle on the ins and outs of life in school for students. Last month About Average (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), his newest title, was released. Protagonist, Jordan Johnston, has the distinct label of being average.
It was a sunny spring morning, but there was murder in the air.
No, this is not a mystery story but this first sentence gets your attention right away. It leads into a description of Jordan's skills, or lack thereof, in the elementary school orchestra. This one particular day in her sixth grade year, coming to a close, will be one not only Jordan but her entire community will remember.
What Jordan desires above all else is to excel at one thing before this year is over. She's hoping it will be her violin playing. As most people eventually come to know, wanting and doing might not come as quickly or as easily as one would desire.
To complicate her endeavors her list of three, Things I'm Good At, Things I'm Okay At and Things I Stink At, has fallen into the hands of Marlea Harkins, a mean girl who bullies Jordan (for reasons unknown to her) in the most subtle of ways. Another welcome, but nonetheless, distraction is Jonathan Cardley, who Jordan believes is the most perfect boy in her class. The final hindrance comes at the hands of Mother Nature; the heat in Salton, Illinois is spiking.
As the day progresses readers are privy to Jordan's thought processes about her classmate relationships, flashbacks of events earlier in the year and her musings about her strengths and weaknesses. It's the core of her character, what she wants to be, what she won't do, that shines. When disaster strikes, it's one of those Things I'm Good At which gives her the confidence to be glad about who she is.
Andrew Clements speaks to the universal hopes and fears of middle grade students through his apt descriptions of the typical happenings in a school setting. He most definitely has his fingers on the pulse of how they think and feel. His characters are believable, real, in every sense of the word. Adults in the story are not cardboard caricatures but play relevant roles; parents who care but are not quite as careful as they could be, a mindful meteorologist and a reading teacher whose passion is catching.
Clements pacing is effective, blending and shifting various elements of the storyline through chapter changes. Readers can see what Jordan is experiencing currently as well as what happened previously. A tension of sorts is also created by what we know but Jordan does not; what is taking place outside the walls of the school.
Here are a couple of passages from the pages of this title.
Jordan wished that all the really pretty girls would disappear, one by one, until she was left as the cutest girl at school. Then Jonathan Cardley would be asking some other girl, "Hey, have you seen Jordan?"
A lot of girls would have to vanish.
Books kidnapped Jordan the same way her memories did. Starting a new book was like jumping into a rushing stream--something she wished she could do right about then. She was still sweating.
Soft, expressive illustrations by Mark Elliot are found on twelve single pages throughout the title further illuminating the narrative flow.
Within 120 pages Andrew Clements is able to bring to readers exactly what they need; having proven time and time again, this is his true gift. About Average is so real you can almost taste it; the perfect piece of life's pie. Everyone does have something at which they excel. Finding it is life's journey.
By following the link attached to Andrew Clements's name above you can explore his website. By following this link you can browse inside About Average courtesy of Simon & Schuster.