by Gordon Korman
I assumed this book was about a Middle School Club for Gay Kids based on the name alone, but then I took a closer look at the kids on the cover.
|I don't think I need to elaborate here.|
The book starts out during recess at Thaddeus G. Little Middle School. Douglas Fairchild (the effeminate young man in the yellow with the color-coordinated binder) meets his mom at the front steps of the school after her limo arrives. She has a meeting with the principal, because Douglas is in trouble for sending sarcastic, well-written memos to the bus driver about his driving. Everyone thinks Mrs. Fairchild is the shit, because her husband is the French ambassador; and I guess they have a lot of parties.
The visit is interrupted by a crybaby eighth-grader named Michael, who was beat up by Armando, also known as "Commando." Commando is the (black?) kid on the bottom right who is gazing adoringly at Douglas. Apparently Commando beats up Michael on a regular basis, because he bullies younger kids. So he's kind of noble? He has a spiral, snake earring. I don't know what to tell you.
The Principal's solution to Douglas' problem is to join an after-school "Discussion Group" with all the other troubled kids. Commando refers to this group as the "Twinkie Squad." I'm really at a loss here, because other than whining about his post-nasal drip, and claiming to be from a made-up country as a desperate cry for attention, I don't really see that Douglas has a problem. He's just an asshole, like most middle schoolers.
Later that same day, Douglas holds up the cafeteria line by displaying some very severe OCD tendencies. Once again, it's hard to know if he really can't handle a portion of meatloaf that might have been breathed on, or if he's just being an asshole again. He's introduced to star basketball player, Waldo, by Commando. They both try to convince him to skip out on the club meeting that afternoon. Commando then makes a statement that I'm sure is a direct quote from a number of homophobic politicians, "I mean, Ambassador Fairchild's kid can't be a Twinkie! It's - it's bad for national security!"
Douglas ignores the advice and makes his way to the classroom used for the meeting. There is no concept of time here, so I can't be sure if this is going on after school, or directly after lunch. He joins the meeting as the married-couple counselors, Julia and Martin Richardson, are trying to get the other kids to talk about their feelings. I imagine Julia and Martin as the camp counselor couple from The Addams Family Values.
We meet Dave, who I assume is the kid with the tiny sunglasses tucked in his hoodie standing behind Douglas; Anita, the bitchy looking blonde in the red sweater; Yolanda, the ambiguously ethnic girl with a deep voice; and Gerald, a ten-year-old who skipped a grade. They all hate feelings. Douglas wants to talk about his birth country, Pefkakia, and Julia and Martin become discouraged.
Douglas continues to act like an asshole on the bus, causing the driver to crash into Doug's dad's limo. The POV then switches to Commando's house, where his dad acts like the typical "Cool Parent" who just wants to be his son's "friend." They play practical jokes on each other until Dad tells Commando to write to his mother, who left them or something.
We shift back to the Fairchild penthouse, where it turns out Pefkakia might be a real country. I'm so disappointed. Also, Douglas discusses the importance of "the freedom to frolic."
The next day, Commando tosses a basketball at Doug, who just stares as it hurls towards him and gets hit in the nose. The principal thinks Commando beat up someone else, and sentences him to the Twinkie Squad. He's also kicked off the basketball team. Commando talks some shit to Julia and Martin about how terrible it is to be in this group. Douglas suggests making the Twinkie Squad look like a prestigious social club to outsiders, which isn't a bad idea. Nobody buys it. Another member, Ric (who I forgot about, but he must be the one in the red, sitting in his model pose), bites his pen and covers himself in ink. Julia tells him to go clean up and he runs out the door, never to be seen again.
We're then treated to Commando's brief description of his new club-mates:
"Dave, who hated everything in the world; Anita, who didn't have enough personality to form her own opinions; Ric, the human Mexican jumping bean; Yolanda, who was so wrapped up in the world of movies that she didn't have time for real life; Gerald, who might have been a nice guy, but who could tell? He hardly even looked up, let alone spoke. And Doug."
Douglas attempts to tell the principal the truth about the basketball to get Commando out of his punishment, but it doesn't work. Commando goes home and fakes happiness, so he doesn't have to embarrass his father by admitting he's a Twinkie.
The next day, Commando has a pissing contest in the cafeteria with Kahlil, the new point guard for the basketball team, who thinks it's great that he got Commando's position. This Kahlil asshole pulls a bench out from under Gerald, who is eating and doing his math homework. Commando loses his shit and starts threatening and yelling at Kahlil for picking on Gerald. Do not pick on younger kids in Commando's presence! This is clearly his character flaw, and he's about to hit his limit break. Commando looks around the cafeteria for someone who might help him in a fight, but all he can see is Ric, who is "bouncing up and down in his seat so had that the mixed vegetables on his plate were airborne;" and Doug, who is snapping his fingers for a waiter. Gerald thanks him for his help, but accidentally lets it slip that Commando is a Twinkie now. Kahlil is thrilled.
Later, or possibly Immediately (once again, no time concept), Commando arrives at the Twinkie meeting room to hear the Richardsons scolding Yolanda for skipping History to see a Science Fiction movie. Yolanda's reply is "Greetings Earthling." I'm starting to think she might need actual help.
Douglas shows up to the meeting with membership cards he had printed up. He's really pushing the exclusive social organization bit, but has failed because he has chosen to call this organization "The Grand Knights of the Exalted Karpoozi." Yeah, Twinkie Squad sounds a lot better. The Richardsons are not into it.
Doug asks Commando to come back to his house as he has "irrefutable evidence" that Commando did not punch him in the face and should be allowed back on the basketball team. Commando agrees, but is let down when this evidence turns out to be a letter from the Surgeon General that Doug typed up and got signed under false pretenses. Commando is freaking out about fraud and possible jail time, when they are interrupted by Mrs. Fairchild; who came to yell at Douglas for ordering eleven pounds of squid. She arranges for a car to drive Commando home. As he is heading out, he comes face to face with Mr. Fairchild, who just got home. Commando obviously has a huge crush on this guy and I just don't get it. Are ambassadors a big thing? Do I not get it because I'm not into politics? Everybody in this books keeps getting boners over this guy and I don't even know what he does all day. Anyway, Mr. Fairchild is also mad about the squid.
Commando leaves in a limo and pulls up to the sidewalk his dad is walking down on his way home. Mr. Commando jumps in without questioning his son at all. What if this limo was stolen?
The next day, Douglas brings a huge bag of squid packed in dry ice to serve to his fellow Twinkies at lunch. He goes into the home ec room to cook it, but the bell rings before he can even start. He hides the bag of squid in the ceiling near the hole from a missing tile, intending to come back and cook it at lunch. I'm going to barf just thinking about eating non-refrigerated squid that's been in the ceiling half a day, I don't care how well dry ice preserves food. On his way out of the classroom, Doug gets accosted by AssholeKahlil. This kid is such a dick.
Doug worries about the squid all morning, and for good reason. By the time he gets back to the home ec room during lunch, some workers are finishing up the new ceiling tile, which is permanent. Oh my God, that room is going to smell terrible.
Doug is called to the counselors' office, where the Richardsons are waiting. They are pissed because Doug put a sign-up sheet for the Grand Knights on the bulletin board. He tries to explain that this is a symbol to the Twinkies that they aren't prisoners in this discussion group, but willing participants in a club. It actually makes a lot of sense and I kind of admire it. Martin Richardson acts like a total baby and rips the sheet into pieces. Doug proves that he's a lot more mature than the two adults who are supposed to be counseling him, and tapes the sheet back together and puts it back.
That afternoon's Twinkie meeting winds up cancelled, because Anita takes up the beginning complaining about her new haircut; while Yolanda quotes lines from the new movie Manhattan Society Ladies. Is that really the best name they could come up with? After that excitement, Ric knocks his chair backwards, hitting his head and has to be taken to the nurse.
Commando invites Doug back to his house for dinner. Commando watches a rerun of one of Mr. Fairchild's speeches on TV before Doug gets there. Is this guy really so famous that his speeches are played on TV all the time? I'm telling you, I don't get it. The boys play a prank on Mr. Commando and eat chili. Then the FBI calls, looking for Doug because he forgot to tell his mom where he was. I would say this seems extreme, but clearly Mr. Fairchild is more famous than Jesus, so I'm sure his kid not coming home after two hours is a big deal.
The next day, the Twinkies are supposed to be ushering at the opening of the high school's new gym. A bitchy cheerleader named Beverly is distraught over the idea that Twinkies will be at the opening basketball game. Her fellow cheerleader, Carol, suggests they "let them do our thing, and we'll concentrate on ours." I love Carol.
The basketball players start showing up and I am terrified by this paragraph:
"Painfully, Waldo turned. Kahlil had backed a girl against the wall, and was rapping away while holding out his gym shoes by their dirty laces."
Obviously, I first read "rapping" as "raping," and started gasping and throwing my book; interrupting my husband's Xbox game. I'm still upset that Kahlil is forcing some innocent girl to listen to his free-styling, but not as upset as if it were the alternative.
The Twinkies are roped into being tour guides for all the visiting alumni. Apparently all seven scheduled tour guides never showed up, which smells fishy to me. I sort of think maybe the Richardsons murdered them because they are super eager to volunteer the Twinkies as substitutes.
Of course, the Twinkies start immediately fucking things up. Gerald left on the tour without his tour group, while Ric forces his group on a bathroom break before he'll take them anywhere else. Douglas decides that his group of five elderly alumni members would rather see the basement and furnace rooms rather than the state of the art pool and new gym. They hate it, and Douglas promptly gets them lost, but not before playing with all the light switches in the sub-basement.
When all the lights start randomly turning on and off in the gym, Commando immediately suspects Doug, but doesn't tell anybody. So, the custodian checks the room the Doug and Co have already left, and then locks the basement door.
It takes Doug and the old people about a year to find the way out, but they can't leave through the locked door. His tour group starts discussing how they should kill him, and Doug climbs through a ventilation duct that leads to the gym. He kicks the grate out, which goes flying, and lands on BitchyBeverly's head. I would have loved to see that. The chapter ends before we find out if the old people get let out, so they could be dead for all we know.
By the time everyone gets back to school on Monday, the whole place smells like a dump. Nobody can figure out where the smell is coming from. And to make things even better, BitchyBeverly has totally bought into the Grand Knights/exclusive social club thing. She can't figure out what the club does, or who is involved, which is driving her crazy.
Doug rounds up the Twinkies in an empty stairwell after their meeting and admits to them what happened with the squid. He wants their help, and they want no part of it. BB just so happens to be walking by the same stairwell, and overhears Doug saying the stink is their fault. She doesn't stay to get any further information or see who is talking, which is stupid. She immediately blabs to everyone she knows that the Grand Knights are a practical joke club who are pranking the school by creating the smell. Now all the Twinkies are paranoid that they are going to get caught and blamed for Doug's stupidity. They launch a plan to spray fancy French perfume in all the air ducts, to neutralize the smell. Yeah.
Because forcing them to lead tour groups went so well, the Richardsons force the Twinkies to audition for the school history play next. BB is a shoe in for the role of Martha Washington, especially since she threatened anyone else that was thinking of auditioning for the role. Douglas manages to pull off an outstanding performance and gets cast as George Washington.
Meanwhile, the perfume eventually wears off, but not before making the squid smell worse. The principal calls in a sewer expert, who can't find anything wrong.
Douglas rewrites the history play in an effort to make George Washington less two-dimensional. He adds two more characters, George's twin brother, Albert; and his mistress, Bernadette. Anita immediately volunteers to play Bernadette, which I think says a lot.
The Twinkies end the day with Doug's latest scheme to fix the stench; sending the science lab's gerbils into the ceiling through the loose tiles in the music room so they will eat the squid. It doesn't work, because why would two well-fed gerbils eat a rotting pile of seafood? They end up losing the gerbils and setting off the fire alarm.
Fortunately, the gerbils find their way out of the ceiling, and are soon returned to their cages. Douglas spends the rest of the week slowly ruining the history play and helping Commando prank his dad.
Douglas has another idea to fix the smell, so the Twinkies hide in the phone booths after school until the principal leaves. Aren't phone booths transparent? Wouldn't the principal just see a bunch of kids crammed in them on his way out? Well, he doesn't, so it works. The Twinkies sneak into his office, pull up his rug, and drill some holes into the floor; which is right above the home ec room. Douglas has brought a huge box of foot powder to pour on the squid and stop the smell. He starts slowly pouring into the holes, but accidentally dumps the whole box in there; sending foot powder flying. Of course, the principal chooses this moment to come back to his office, and they can hear him outside. They all grab as much foot powder as they can, put back the rug and hide in the attached bathroom. The principal never comes in and the powder clogs the toilet. I would hate to be a janitor in this God-forsaken place.
On Monday, Commando's presence is requested in a broom closet, which is the principal's new office. The principal offers Commando his position back on the basketball team if he will write an essay apologizing for hitting Doug in the face. Commando gives this big speech about not admitting to something he didn't do. I'm actually proud of him for standing up and refusing something he wants, for the principle of the matter. But, Commando's real reason is, "I can't let Silverman win this. He dissed me!" Ah, Adolescent Pride.
Waldo is super pissed at Commando for not doing what he can to get back on the team, and for leaving Waldo stuck with Kahlil. His yelling attracts some of the Twinkies, who offer to beat him up for Commando. It's all beautiful, and I tear up because these kids love each other now. I'm a sap, I guess.
I'm seriously loving the hell out of Carol, who calls everyone on their shit. She accuses BB of being "obsessed" with the Twinkies when she won't stop complaining about them. Also, this:
"Kahlil was surly. He turned to Carol. 'Tell Turcott that if I play like his grandmother, he plays like my great-grandmother, who's dead!'
'That's it?' hooted Carol. 'You had all morning to think up a return insult, and that's the best you can do?'
'Hey, man,' retorted Kahlil, 'I let my game do the talking.'
'Then you don't say much,' retorted Carol evenly."
I want to be BFFs with Carol and get matching tattoos.
Doug manages to continue wrecking the history play, all the way to the dress rehearsal. Everybody's sanity is hanging by a thread as they wait to see how he's going to change his lines or his costume each afternoon. They're probably all going to develop Post-Dramatic Stress Disorder.
The next chapter contains the play. The Fairchild's get all dressed up and take the limo to the school. I just have to quote this whole section here:
"'He begged us not to come,' Ambassador Fairchild pointed out. 'He said - and I quote - "It would be more interesting to watch prunes stew."'
She smiled. 'Oh - you know Douglas.'
'No, I don't,' he said seriously. 'I never did. How about all that gibberish about being denied the creative freedom to three-dimensionalize his character. I went to college - what is he talking about?'
'Everyone else is putting on a cute little school play, and Douglas wants it to be perfect. He won't even talk about the play, or tell me what part he has. He's keeping it a surprise.'
'He's probably playing a tree,' quipped the ambassador, 'and driving everybody crazy with his method acting.' He sighed. 'That boy's my own son, and he may as well be from Mars for all that I understand him.'
His wife chuckled. 'Well, he is from Pefkakia.'
The famous couple laughed all the way to Washington High."
I'm curious as to what college Ambassador Fairchild went to that he didn't know what "three-dimensional" meant. But at least the Fairchild's are well aware of their son's interesting tendencies.
Commando is ushering at the high school auditorium, where the play is being held. He seats the Fairchild's, and then gives the ambassador some political advice, which he seems to take seriously. What kind of lame college did the ambassador attend, if he's taken job advice from an eleven year old?!
The play goes along splendidly for awhile. Doug makes an amazing George Washington, and the audience is loving it. Until, that is, Doug decides to sew some card tricks into his pants, ripping them in half by accident. Commando desperately searches the costume rack for another pair, but all Doug finds is a pair of CLOWN PANTS. Why are there clown pants with the rest of the history play costumes? And why are they FILLED WITH FIREWORKS?! Because that's what happens. The pants are filled with fireworks that go off as soon as Doug steps back on stage. The play gets a standing ovation.
The next day at school, the cafeteria lady makes fun of Doug for ruining the play. The adults in this book are terrible. They all act more childish then the actual children. Doug invites Commando over for dinner, where they plan to set up a bucket of jello to dump on Ambassador Fairchild's head. Unfortunately, it's Wednesday, which is the day the President comes for dinner. The jello hits a Secret Service agent instead.
Apparently, the President is really impressed with Commando's opinions on foreign policy. I'm concerned with the state of the nation.
At the Twinkie meeting the next day, Martin Richardson holds up the taped together sign up sheet for the Grand Knights and starts yelling at Doug for putting it back. Doug claims that the Grand Knights do exist. And then the other kids start claiming to be Grand Knights, and it's JUST LIKE THAT SCENE IN SPARTACUS! I'm totally getting goosebumps. Martin is losing his shit and Doug suggests they vote on whether or not they are a club. The vote is unanimous and Doug is placed in charge. Martin gives up pretty easily. Also, Beverly signed up on the sheet. Great. Doug says he'll take care of it.
And take care of it he does. The next day, there's a huge crowd around the bulletin board. The sign-up sheet is there, and on top of Beverly's name in pink marker is the word "REJECTED." BB is in an uproar and the whole school is going crazy for the Grand Knights. The Twinkies are super excited and proud of Doug. But the Richardsons aren't. Especially Cry-BabyMartin, who starts screaming and crumbling up the sign-up sheet, which is full of names. He tells Doug if he puts up another sheets he's "dead." Why isn't this guy fired? He's the worst counselor ever! I'm calling the school board.
The Twinkies meet the next morning to put flyers on all the lockers, apologizing that membership to the Grand Knights is currently closed. The gossip about the Grand Knights is everywhere, but no one can confirm anything. BB is so upset about being rejected, that she decides to get her mom (who is president of the PTA) to complain. That'll learn 'em!
There's another Spartacus event at the Twinkie meeting that afternoon, when Martin tries to blame Doug for the flyers. All the Twinkie Knights claim to be the culprit and then go on silent protest for the rest of the meeting. I want to marry all of them.
The uproar starts the next morning. Mrs. BB called all the other busybody parents and they all start making complaints to the principal, who is distracted by the expert rat catcher that has come to investigate the smell. They x-ray (?) the building, only to find nothing, because a squid doesn't have bones. They decide they'll have to start knocking down walls.
The teachers have an emergency meeting to discuss the Grand Knights and the stupid Richardsons out the Twinkies. Not that kind of "out," I mean, out them about being Grand Knights. The principal demands they let in all the students who want to join or else, "We'd all look like idiots!" Too late.
The Richardsons explain the new situation to the Twinkie Knights, who are a little concerned. They put up new sign-up sheets and posters. Basically, the whole school signs up. They plan a general meeting for Friday, and get nervous about the school's reaction when they find out it's just a bunch of Twinkies.
Then there's an odd scene where Doug tells his dad he should "frolic" more and act like Mr. Commando. Ambassador Fairchild tells Doug that he's never going to be Mr. Commando, and Doug tells him he likes him the way he is. This seems reversed.
Doug sends the Surgeon General letter to the principal to try to clear Commando's name before report cards go out. The principal calls both their parents, which is the most responsible thing any adult has done so far.
Then it's time for the Grand Knights meeting and Martin is having an identity crisis. Julia Richardson appears to actually understand the whole reasoning behind the Twinkies pretending they were in a club and tries to explain it to Martin. Where have you been this whole time, bitch?! Those kids could have used you! She helps Gerald put a tie (?) on and is practically crying while she tells the kids she and Martin are proud of them. Martin is clearly not proud.
The crowd is cheering and chanting and screaming. Some of the girls might be throwing their bras; you know Beverly is. Then, the Twinkie Knights come out and silence falls. Except for Carol, who is laughing hysterically in BB's face.
While the silent audience stares, Doug explains the Pefkakian traditions associated with the Grand Knights. And then he publicly resigns. Commando catches on pretty quick, and soon he and the other members also publicly resign. They pick up their shit and go. The Richardsons are crying and start a slow clap, until the principal makes them stop. Oh, right, now you're proud, Martin.
BB is super pissed and she and Kahlil start getting violent. Waldo and Carol tell them to shut up. They all go outside just in time to see the Twinkies climb into Doug's limo. BB tries to restart the meeting, but no one's into it. Too bad, BB!
In the limo, the Twinkies toast each other with ginger ale and laugh about how they won. Commando says he's glad to be on the Squad and hang out with them. Gerald says they're his best friends and I start crying. They decide to go back to the school and sneak the squid out somehow. Commando tells Doug he's amazing and saved all the Twinkies:
"'This is way better!' Commando insisted. 'The Richardsons went to college forever to get piles of counseling degrees. And in a million years they could never have done a thing with those Twinkies! But along comes you, and a couple of months later, everybody's cured!'"
Too right you are, Commando.
The Twinkies sneak into the home ec room and begin sawing away. Meanwhile, the ambassador and Mr. Commando are in the principal's broom closet. He shows him the letter and Commando's dad hears about the supposed punch in the face. Both dads start yelling at the principal for being a fucking idiot, and they basically call him a racist. He apologizes.
The Twinkies get the squid out of the ceiling and everybody is crying and dry heaving. They take it outside to bury it, but then a cop shows up. He drags them into the principal's broom closet with the squid and demands to know who is responsible for these kids. The three men have their own Spartacus scene.
Later, Commando is in his room, worrying about being in trouble. His dad comes in and asks him to please not fuck up again, and also he passed his CPA test. They rejoice for a little bit, before Commando thinks about how much trouble Doug is probably in. Then, FOR THE FIRST FUCKING TIME, he decides to look up Pefkakia to see if it actually exists. I HAVE BEEN WAITING THE WHOLE BOOK FOR THIS.
Commando goes to school the next day to find Doug cleaning out his locker. He has to go to a new school for kids who have trouble concentrating. Commando informs him that he researched Pefkakia, and it's no longer its own country. In fact, it was only a country for six months, before being swallowed up by Saudi Arabia. Then Doug admits that his mom went into labor in the Pefkakian airport and gave birth behind a luggage rack. What the fuck? Then they flew to Washington. This explains so much. Doug shows Commando his yellow binder, which just has "blah blah blah" written over 72 pages. Maybe Doug does have a problem.
Commando thinks to himself that the reason Doug did all this was for attention. That he wanted to be different. No, Commando, I don't think that's it. The boys decide to burn the binder in some trash cans outside. Then Commando goes to class.
Doug turns away from the last of the fire to see his father arrive in his limo. The ambassador gets out of the car and runs around in place, kicking up dirt. Doug is, at first, disturbed, and so am I. Then the ambassador tells Doug he's frolicking! Oh, man. This is so beautiful. I'm crying all over the place!
Ambassador Fairchild tells Doug that he changed his mind about the school and he can stay here. Then all the Twinkies jump out and start cheering. Hooray! It's over!
Things I liked:
- Korman does a good job of giving all these kids their own personality quirks that are really endearing. The quirks stay with them the whole book and there are some great one-liners.
- The overall message was really good.
- Carol is fantastic.
- I hate when adults in children's books are incompetent. I know it's supposed to make children feel powerful, but I just think it's annoying.
Nice one, Gordon Korman! I don't know that I'd re-read this book, but I'll definitely check out some of Korman's other work.
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