Sunday, October 1, 2017

Well-Meaning, But Lack of Subtlety Dampens Overall Quality

Stereotypical Freaks (Forever Friends #1) by Howard Shapiro. Illus by Joe Pekar (Animal Media Group, 2012, 140pp.)

Senior class misfits Tom and Dan want to participate in their school’s Battle of the Bands. Dan plays a mean bass, and Tom is a whiz on both guitar and keyboard—but two people, unfortunately, don’t a band make. They still need a drummer and at least one more guitarist if they want a chance at beating the competition. That's when Tom reaches out to Mark, a former friend and now star athlete, for his mad guitar skills. Later, they’re joined by exchange student Jacoby, who proves to be formidable on the drums. And so is born a new band, the “Stereotypical Freaks.” As the night of the competition draws close, the four boys revel in their awesome new sound—until one of them comes forward with a heartbreaking secret. Will misunderstanding and tragedy unmoor their new-found sense of comradery? Or will it bring them closer together?

Oh, where to begin? The thing I liked most about this graphic novel were the lists of suggested songs at the beginning of each chapter. Since I was reading this as a galley on my computer, I was able to go to YouTube and listen to the songs as I read, which was really a nice touch. Supporters of the We Need Diverse Books movement will also be pleased by the inclusion of minority characters as key players in the story. Mark is black and has two mothers, while Jacoby is Inuit. However, that's where my praise ends. Although it’s a nice, well-meaning story with an important message, it also tends to suffer from preachiness and lack of subtlety. When the boys are discussing possibilities for their new band name, Tom muses: 

“The name should be unique to us...who we are, what we are. And when people look at us I think they see four, I guess for lack of a better word, stereotypes… We have a brainiac, a goof with zero social skills […], an African-American football star and a tiny and very shy foreign exchange student… To them, that is who we are. The truth is, we’re not the stereotypes they define us as. In a way we are freaks...because we're not who we’re perceived as.”
This is where, as a writer, I’m going to on my creativity high horse and point out that in a good story, readers should be able to pick up on themes by themselves. If a story requires direct intervention by the writer, then the story isn’t as strong as it could be. And unfortunately, I think that’s the case here. Recommended for older teens, ages 16-Up.

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