________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008



John van de Ruit.
New York, NY: Razorbill (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2007.
331 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
ISBN 978-1-59514-170-5.

Subject Headings:
Boarding schools-Fiction.
Family life-South Africa-Fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

*** /4


18:10  Gavin, the prefect under the stairs, ordered all the first-years out of dinner to hunt for Albert, his pet rat. Mad Dog found it behind the fridge in the prefects' room. Rambo says his prefect is wickedly weird and breeds cockroaches to feed Albert and Victoria the house snake.

21:30  Pike and Devries left a dozen eggs under Rambo's duvet cover, which exploded when Rambo sat on his bed. After cleaning himself up, Rambo demanded that our dormitory wage a brutal war against Pike and Devries and that we agree that any action against one of us is an action against all. We all shook on it, including Vern, who looked deadly solemn and committed.

Mad Dog admitted to placing the second banana in Glockenshpeel's exhaust pipe and said that he did it to save his cousin. He also said that Stott and Emberton had been responsible for the first banana. We all congratulated him on his bravery and called him a legend. Mad Dog reckoned it was the power of Emberton's dad that finally swayed the board.

Fatty then rose slowly and said, "The board of governors are a sneaky lot, and trust me, gentlemen, I have proof of it." With that he farted loudly and called it a night.

Roger the cat jumped through my window and slept the night on Vern's bed. Vern talks to Roger in a strange language that makes him sound stark raving crackers. Rogers responds by purring and rubbing his head against Vern's chin. As weird as their relationship is, Roger is probably the only reason Vern is back at school, so I don't mind all the jabbering away in cat language - after a while the madness becomes normal.


John Milton, a.k.a. Spud, shakily enters his first year of boarding school in 1980's Durban, South Africa, on scholarship, and there he participates in and endures the idiocy that only groups of 13-year-old boys can dream up. He and his dorm-mates (who become known as the Crazy Eight) break rules by slipping out to swim at night, break the school record for length of farting (30 continuous seconds) and torture each other on their birthdays (head in the toilet). Obsessed with girls and sex, mystified by missing underwear and mortified by his odd parents and grandmother, Spud nevertheless wins the coveted lead role in the school's mounting of the musical Oliver and manages to juggle having two girlfriends at once.

     Spud is a strong character with whom every young teenage boy will identify. Although he faces embarrassing humiliation on a daily basis, he manages to survive without destroying others. He loves English and drama while only just beginning to understand the struggle of the adults around him to engage their students with life lessons. Over the year, he moves from a terrified first-year student to a boy who begins to be interested in South African politics and apartheid, and he can face the death of both a teacher and a best friend. 

     This book is in diary form so Spud's classmates and his teachers and relatives all seem more than a little odd as they are portrayed through his eyes. Surely his father can't be quite that paranoid, his grandmother quite that lost to Alzheimer's, his teachers quite so drunk or sexually involved with students, or his prefects quite so vindictive. Their antics, though, will certainly raise laughs in the intended audience, even as the odd setting and time will puzzle many Canadian teens. The vocabulary is definitely colonial, but the jokes and observations of the boys will breeze by any unfamiliarity right to the heart of the uneasy trepidation felt by all young teenage boys.

     Reminiscent of Gordon Korman's books about Canadian private boys boarding schools, this novel for boys who are slightly older, but no less silly, will entertain junior high readers who will no doubt be relieved that boys are much the same everywhere.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg (MB) bookseller who never did trust boys from private schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.