Treat yourself to Hamburger Halpin

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk; published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010; 248 pages.

High school is hard.  It’s hard to fit in and harder to stay “in” once you are in.  Take the tale of Will “Hamburger” Halpin.  He’s been an outsider ever since his hearing quietly faded into nothingness.  He learned how to lip-read and that would seem to be a superpower in the world of the school bus.  After a little battle about “normal” at his school for the hearing impaired, Will chooses to go mainstream at the local high school–local as in coal country Pennsylvania.  While riding the bus, he gets the back stories of many of his peers; who’s in the “in” crowd and who’s on the outs, the freaks, and geeks, and outsiders like himself.  After a disaster on a class field trip to the local mine, Hamburger Halpin and his new buddy “Smileyman” use their individual super-sleuthing powers to solve the crime.  They even find a way to solve a century-old family mystery and figure out a little bit about high school dynamics while they’re at it.

Nothing I can say can prepare you for this laugh-out-loud-but-sometimes-darkly-deep book.  If you’ve read Fat Kid Rules the World, you have a nodding acquaintance with Will Halpin as he has so much in common with Troy “Big T” Billings.  But where Troy’s world is edgy New York City, Will’s world is rural PA.  My overall impression is that these two books are read-alikes, with Berk’s story a little less urban than Going’s tale.

For a debut YA novel, Berk has hit a home run.  He has captured the humor and angst that teens face daily as they posture for position in an ever-changing social environment.  A little mystery, a lot of self-discovery, and a pinch of voyeurism make this an easy read, and a tale that just might stay with you for awhile.

On a personal note: YAY!  Josh Berk is the son of two librarians and is a librarian himself (according to information on his website and on the jacket flap).  Go, Librarians!  Keep using your superpowers!

4P     5Q     Grade Level 9-12+

Cover Art: Ah, to my big complaint.  One review I read before picking up this book led me to believe that this might be a good read for reluctant readers and middle schoolers.  After looking at the cover, I thought this book was more on the middle school reading level.  Then I read the book.  This is definitely a book for high schoolers who will best relate to the characters, situations and political innuendo (OK, I’m referring to the casino issue and the Chambers family).  So who approved the cover of this book?  It may turn off the right readers and appeal to the wrong ones.  As Ranganathan said, “Every book its reader;” this cover may prohibit that from happening.

From Reading List: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA), nominee 2010


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