Arthur John Stewart,
Thistledown Press, 2011.
Rating: G - E
This first novel puts an interesting perspective on what we euphemistically term "Middle School," but what is actually a minefield of shocking proportions.
Odd Ball is both the name of an event and also a description of some individuals who do not fit the rigid and unforgiving cast of coolness and acceptance. In a back-and-forth montage of portraits of four main individuals, author Stewart gives the inside and outside story of each and how they all manage to fit into a relatively happy ending.
The book begins with a prologue about the sixth sense we all seemed to have at one point, but have lost during the intervening centuries of civilization and scientific progress. The hope and suspicion that it still exists is introduced in the character of a Latvian immigrant boy in grade 7 who seems to know how to avoid trouble even though he is the poster boy for such notoriety. His name is Jobbi, descended from a long line of marital matchmakers in Latvia, but in Canada he dresses funny, skates funny, talks funny and does not seem to know the rules of the acceptance game. However, he comes to the attention of other ‘misfits’ who see in him the potential for getting past the wall of unacceptability and decide he can "match make" at a dance they decide to call The Odd Ball by pretending to use a glow ball to match dance partners.
This happy event has to come at the end of the novel because it seems that the story of Jobbi’s parents’ problems in Latvia needs explaining at some length, which provides an opportunity to illustrate the close relationship between parents and children in other parts of the world. It is an illustrative story of just how much is taken for granted in Canada (recent Vancouver riots notwithstanding).
The other characters in this little tale are the boy others consider a bit of a geek but who is fine with who he is, and bright girl who first sees Jobbi’s talent, the boy who always manages to be both cool and aware of those who are not and the girl who almost gets lost because of family issues that overshadow not only her life but the perceptions of others.
Thematic Links: Bullying; Middle School; Conduct of Life; Family Relationships; Multiculturalism
Vol. 17, number 1
E - Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!
G - Good, even great at times, generally useful!
A - Average, all right, has its applications.
P - Problematic, puzzling, poorly presented.