Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Amulet Books, 2010.

The problem with a lot of really funny books is that they don't portray a version of life that is particularly realistic. Sure, they might be hilarious - but it's not as if one reads them thinking "oh man, that is just SO true" or "wow, did this author actually get inside my brain?"

How fabulous, then, to read a book that is not only extremely funny but is actually strangely close to matching my memories of junior high school, which was populated by more intensely strange and nerdy children than you would believe. In 1978, it was a brand new magnet school called the Center for Enriched Studies (now quite renowned and difficult to get into), and somehow it attracted ueber-dorky kids of all ethnicities (or rather, it attracted their parents). We didn't have our own campus, and therefore we spent the first three years on three different campuses (the first year, our classes were held on the grounds of the gorgeous Wilshire Boulevard Temple). We had no gym, no lockers, no cafeteria - but the classes were challenging and the teachers were first-rate. It was a nerd breeding ground.

What does this have to do with Origami Yoda? Everything! I knew kids just like Tommy, Harvey, Kellen, and especially Dwight. And you know, they were FUNNY. Yes, they goofed around and acted like fools - but they also did Yoda imitations, Monty Python imitations, were always ready with wisecracks and one-liners, and could be really hilarious. That's what this book reminded me of - hanging out and kidding around with the dorky guys at school (because the cool, good-looking guys were way out of my league, and anyway they didn't seem very nice OR funny).

Plot in a nutshell: Dwight, Inexplicably Weird Boy Extraordinaire, makes an origami Yoda, puts it on his finger, and gives advice and/or predicts the future. Strangely, the advice is often wise and has good results, leading Tommy and many other 6th-graders to wonder if the origami Yoda could be really channeling Yoda or another wise spirit. After all, Dwight is just too weird to come up with that stuff. Tommy and other kids take turns telling Yoda anecdotes, while sceptical Harvey weighs in with dissenting opinions.

These kids talk, bicker, and obsess just like those Center for Enriched Studies dorks of yore. All dialogue is startlingly authentic, as is the humor. Does the fact that I still find Yoda imitations funny mean that my sense of humor has never progressed beyond middle school? (I have driven my children crazy with this Yoda admonition - "No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try.") The illustrations are likewise very middle school-esque.

Best of all, there are some lessons learned, both of the small and inconsequential variety and the poignant sort. Dwight, of course, is the true hero of this tale. He remains an enigma, but as kids learn to look beyond the Yoda on his finger and really see him, they begin to understand what a complex and fascinating (if utterly unpredictible and still bizarre) person he is.

Highly recommended for everyone ages 9 and up. Read this you must.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this book too. AND its seldom on the shelf at my branch :)