CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 19. . . .January 27, 2017
Riley and his best friend Finn are excited to make their zombie-lizard movie for their class film festival. But when they go to a hockey game together dressed up to draw attention to their movie, Finn is caught on camera alone dancing, and the viral video makes him an instant star at the game and at school. Riley’s jealousy increases as Finn ignores their work together, collaborating instead with Riley’s crush Jasmine, and using his free hockey tickets to take her to a game, sparking rumours they are dating. When Riley accidentally discovers Finn’s own video for a romantic song he’s written about Jasmine, it leads to the entire class seeing the embarrassing video and a fight breaking out between the two. Seeing their work coalesce in Jasmine’s video in class, the two save their friendship in time to revitalize their original movie.
Full of school-age humour and petty conflict, My Best Friend is a Viral Dancing Zombie is at its best in its excerpts from Riley’s storyboards that punctuate his struggle to get his action movie and his friendship with Finn back on track. The depiction of singer Leon Courage—whom Finn is compared to in his dancing videos—parallels the worship/ridicule cycle of Justin Beiber, and the general contemporary Canadian setting (Courage is from Saskatoon!) will ring true to readers in this country. At times, their conflict is believable, if not intense, and Riley’s inner turmoil when he first plots to expose Finn’s music video, then does so accidentally, provides some emotional moments and a thematic compass. The moment when Riley realizes he and Finn have both contributed to Jasmine’s video is a bit forced but ultimately moves the story forward.
The writing is straightforward, sometimes like a series of video clips, but occasionally a bit hackneyed, and not particularly funny, despite the humourous story. The best scene—quoted above—is when the friends make up, discover a new idea for their movie, and have a little awkward moment about hugging. Finn’s brief moments of classroom fame, where he drops hints he has more free hockey tickets, are jealously observed by Riley who calls his new gaggle of friends “Finn-Heads”, one of the few truly funny moments. An enjoyable glossary of movie-making terms ends the book, rounding out the informative nature of their film-making exercise.
A few moments stray from inner consistency. When the pair show some preview scenes to the class immediately after their recess-time reunion where they decide to rework their theme, the reader is left wondering: when did they have time or equipment to edit them together? Riley also mentions that he and his family have hockey season tickets, yet there are three games during the story that they do not attend. It is refreshing to hear the multicultural names of Riley’s classmates—Paulo, Vijay, Navdeep, and Jasmine, a Filipina—but a bit cringeworthy when Riley is introduced as black and Finn as white by the description of their alter-egos in their movie.
Finally, there is the matter of the hints dropped as to some level of poverty that Finn may be living in. The story mentions that he’s never been to a hockey game before, never been to a vacation resort, and seems to wear the same clothes every day; the reader might hope that that foreshadows some revelation, but it never comes. When they have their final blow-up, Finn complains that Riley dominates their movie-making and that all the equipment is Riley’s—a scene that almost screams out for Finn to add that he feels he has less than everyone else. But it never happens, and what could have been a story that deftly swung in the kind of socio-economic indignity that many young readers are already familiar with, ends up no more than a fun story of friends, fame, and attention.
Recommended with Reservations.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and President of the Ontario Library Association.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.