Thursday, June 2, 2016

Vote by Gary Paulsen

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

To say Gary Paulsen has been a hit with my kids would be to undersell just how much they love his humorous books. (They like the Hatchet series as well, but the comedies are their favorites.) Here are my previous Paulsen reviews:

With this disaster of an election looming, I decided that about all we can do is look for a reason to laugh. Hence, I picked this book. 

Paulsen wrote several books in this series, featuring 14 year old Kevin Spencer and his schoolmates. Like the others, Vote is narrated by Kevin himself, which adds to the humor. Kevin is, shall we say, not the most self-aware person. He thinks more highly of himself than he ought, and he fails to see disaster looming as the natural result of his questionable choices. On the other hand, he is likeable, in a certain way, despite his faults. You want to see him succeed, even though he seems rather unlikely to do so.

The setup is thus: Kevin is now dating the gorgeous (if a little personality-deficient) Tina, but he is still terribly insecure. The problem is Cash Devine, the new kid who is “every boy band ever mashed together” handsome. It is obvious that most of the girls at school are swooning over Cash. When it turns out that Cash is running to be student body president after the incumbent moves away, Kevin finds himself throwing his hat in the ring in an effort to impress Tina.

The ensuing election is a never-ending stream of missteps and pratfalls. Cash is mostly looks, with little in the way of a brain or ambition. The genius behind his campaign is Katie, Kevin’s frenemy. In fact, as everyone realizes far too late, Katie is the person who should be president. Had she joined the race, she would likely have won. Instead, the final debate is between Kevin and Cash, neither of whom really wants the job, and both of whom are nervous as heck.

I have come to appreciate Paulsen’s light touch with his characters. Kevin is flawed in many ways, but he does have a number of redeeming qualities. One of these is his love and care for Markie, the 4 year old his family is babysitting while his parents attempt to reconcile. Kevin is the only one in the family who seems to appreciate the little kid, who is, well, a typical 4 year old boy. One of the funniest - and also telling - episodes in the book is the day that Kevin’s parents leave early due to a combination of obligations and an emergency situation - and nobody realizes that Markie has been left behind. Kevin, being a decent person, finds a way of smuggling Markie into Kevin’s school, and integrate him into the day’s activities.

Other characters are fun. There is Kevin’s goofy Aunt Buzz (named for her caffeine habit) and his friend (whose name eludes me) who is kind of a ditzy stoner sort but without the illicit substances. There is Cash, who has all the charm and good looks, but discovers he hates campaigning because everyone wants to touch him. Not a sharp tool, but not exactly a tool either, which makes him more interesting.

Another twist which is interesting is that while Kevin is smitten with Tina, who seems nice enough, but a bit flat, one can easily tell that Kevin’s true match is Katie. Obviously, she would be the character I would want to hang with, but Paulsen seems to indicate that Kevin deep down likes her, even as he enjoys their rivalry. Katie is smart, pushy, organized, and unafraid to be herself. It is a relationship that you could see transforming from frenemies to a romance once both of them grow up a bit.

In any case, this is a fun, lighthearted book. It’s fairly short, but a nice diversion with a more thoughtful heart than one might think. My kids hope to read or listen to the others in the series.  If nothing else, it is an escape from our current electoral politics to a world where voting as popularity contest somehow seems less terrifying, and where a kid running for the wrong reasons can find himself inspired to noble goals.

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