What you need to know:
• A funny, entertaining, clever novel about a 12 year-old boy struggling with reading.
• The impressive illustrations that appear throughout the book were drawn by the author’s fifteen year old son.
• The book is dedicated to Bill Watterson, author of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes.
• For more information on the Tashjians and a vocabulary quiz, check out the My Life as a Book website.
• Written in the first person, the story lets the reader see the world through the eye’s of Derek, the main character.
• There is so much more to this story than simply reeducating a reluctant reader.
• The story of a girl who died on the beach years earlier plays a key part in this book.
Sweet Book Summary:
On the run from his mom who is trying to bribe him to read, Derek ends up in his attic and discovers a ten year-old newspaper article about a 17 year-old girl found dead on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard. As you can imagine, this peaks Derek’s curiosity. He begs his mom for information but she’s keeping it to herself. With this story in the back of his mind, Derek is about to begin his summer vacation. Much to his dismay, his teacher reminds him about the summer reading list, which is about the last thing that Derek wants to think about. When Derek refers to his reading tutor as “SATAN!” on page 4 of the book, you get a pretty good idea as to how he feels about reading. It’s clearly not his first choice. He would rather draw, read comics like Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield and generally break the rules than sit down with a book – especially one he has been told to read.
Derek spends much of the summer trying to figure out the mystery behind that newspaper article. When his best friend Matt goes on vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, he‘s not only sad that he can’t go too, he is jealous that Matt is getting closer to the scene of the incident about which he is so curious. Although generally good-natured, Derek’s imagination and search for fun and games tend to get him in trouble. After he sneaks Pedro the monkey out of his veterinarian mom’s clinic/office, his parents feel he has gone too far and they decide to send him to Learning Camp. It is here, with the help of one of the counselors, that he begins to form a new strategy for reading – imagining each paragraph as a movie.
As summer slips by, Derek manages to learn more about the girl who died and eventually convinces his parents to take a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Not only does he discover the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard, so different from his home in California, he comes to understand what happened that day on the beach so many years ago. This revelation has a huge impact on him and his family. There is an element of sadness to this part of the story and also a very touching scene where they confront the mother of the girl who died years ago.
This book is very current, referring to pop culture and technology. Derek has a huge imagination and you can see it in the creative games he plays and the expressive illustrations that interpret his vocabulary words. Throughout the book, we learn a lot about how he feels, what he’s thinking and who his friends and family are. We see his character develop and learn that beneath the surface, and all the misbehaving, he is a really thoughtful, caring and insightful boy. From his experience that summer, Derek seems to grasp that life is about choices that have potentially serious consequences. He also realizes that life is not always perfect and that sometimes it is better to show compassion than it is to be right. Readers will relate to Derek and will also feel inspired by him.
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