________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 41. . . .June 25, 2010.


Acting Up.

Ted Staunton.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2010.
263 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-441-0.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Rachel Seigel.





Mrs. Stephens was happy to let Sam volunteer. The library was not exactly on Sam’s list of happening places, but it was warmer than dog walking (with no scooping, either) and it was a start. Plus, his mom complimented him on his mature response to a problem. Oh, yesss. Sam thought. On Sam’s first evening, Mrs. Stephens gave him a quick refresher course in the Dewey decimal system and helped him organize a roller truck of books for shelving.

“Okay”, she said, “have fun. I’ve got a meeting, but Ms. Palmer can help with anything else.” She glanced past Sam. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Kipling”

Sam heard an electronic hum. He turned to see a woman rolling by on an electric scooter. Mrs. Kipling made a rapid and complex set of motions with her hands, and responded to the hello with a string of obscenities that made high school sound like kindergarten. Sam Stared after her. Mrs. Stephens seemed unphased.

“She’s a regular. She has some circulatory problems, so she needs the buggy. She also has Tourette’s. You’ll get used to it. She does her best to keep it down.”

Sam nodded, still a little stunned. Mrs. Stephens smiled wryly.

“We have a number of interesting patrons. My favourite right now is a man who’s writing War and Peace.

“Huh?” But I read that,” Sam said. “It’s by…um…Tolstoy.”

“Uh-huh, and as soon as he finishes copying it out, it’s going to be by him too. Happy shelving.”

Sixteen-year-old Sam Foster, the hero of two previous “Hope Springs” books, now stands 6”4, and has learned to slouch to try and make himself less conspicuous in high school. But Sam has bigger problems to worry about than staying invisible. His parents are planning to go away for a few days during March Break, and he wants to start driver’s ed., but he has to prove his maturity first. This is easier said than done, however, and the odds seem stacked against him. First there’s the little (ok. not so little) infraction from December that he’s still atoning for. Then there’s his anarchistic girlfriend Martha, who loves to break all the rules, and finally, there’s crusty old Mr. Tegwar, a teacher who seems to have it in for Sam. Will Sam manage to stay out of trouble and prove his trustworthiness, or is he destined to be grounded for the rest of his life?

     Sam is extremely likeable and funny, and he’s easy to relate to. Regardless of whether you live in a city or a small community such as Hope Springs, Sam’s knack for finding trouble is universal to teenagers. What makes it particularly funny is that his efforts to be responsible are what generally end up getting him into trouble. When his family studies parenting project conflicts with a performance of his band ADHD, he tries to find a way to make it work, but luck isn’t on his side, and he ends up in trouble. When his friends start drinking Rum and Coke before the school dance, Sam believes he’s proving his maturity by drinking just enough to prove he can handle it, and not look like a wimp in front of his friends, but this doesn’t quite work out either.

     As a result of his various mishaps, Sam does grow, and Staunton does an excellent job of balancing the humorous and serious side of these growing pains. Sam is a good kid. He means well and tries to do the right thing, but, as in real life, his ideas of the right thing are often wrong. Those wrong things also have consequences, and he ends up hurting his girlfriend. As difficult as these consequences are for Sam, he does ultimately learn to accept responsibility for his actions, even when it isn’t easy.

     The secondary characters are also well thought out and range from amusing to sad. There isn’t a character in this book who won’t remind you of somebody you know, and they aren’t superficial or two dimensional. Staunton also does an excellent job of capturing how teens think and speak, and the teenage voices feel authentic.

     The plot moves along at a swift pace and will easily appeal to reluctant teenage readers. Filled with action and humour, it’s enjoyable to read. Much of the story is absurd, but it never becomes unbelievable. It isn’t difficult to imagine that everything Sam experiences throughout the novel could happen, and readers will sympathize with Sam’s mounting frustration as he keeps getting into trouble

     Content wise, the novel is pretty clean, but issues of sex, drinking and drugs make this more appropriate for an early teenage audience than middle school readers.

Highly Recommended.

Rachel Seigel is the Selection Manager [Elementary] at S&B Books Ltd. in Mississauga, ON.

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

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