I’m really liking the amount of humorous, realistic fiction that has come out recently. It takes a lot of skill to write characters that are believable and yet live in big enough experiences to keep the narrative interesting. Tommy Greenwald succeeds in doing that with Jack Strong Takes a Stand.
Jack is an overscheduled middle-schooler who decides to stage a sit-in on his family’s couch until his schedule frees up. It reminded me a little bit of Avi’s Nothing but the Truth as one tiny action escalates into a media storm. Newspapers, web sites, and a TV show all run Jack’s story – but not the full version of it. All have their own agenda, whether they support the parents or think that Jack’s parents are the worst people ever. What I love is that Jack doesn’t hate his parents. Even when outsiders criticize his family, Jack is quick to try to defend them. His dad has a legitimate reason for wanting to overschedule his son’s life. Greenwald made sure that the dad wasn’t a two-dimensional antagonist (although the two-dimensional illustrations are pretty fun) and we see that it’s done because the father cares about his son.
Fans of Charlie Joe Jackson (a book on the GCRA list, might I remind you) will enjoy the similar style. There’s a fun reference to Charlie in the book, placing the events in the same world as Charlie Joe. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Jack Strong. Yes, he’s overscheduled. Yes, he’s taking a stand. And yes, he sometimes is taking for granted opportunities that others do not have. If the story was just about us sympathizing with a busy teen, it wouldn’t be as compelling. It’s more realistic that some characters agree with Jack’s choice but still think that he’s spoiled.
Jack’s grandmother is a stand-out character in the book and it’s interesting to note that she shares the same last name as Ellen Kellerman, the woman that the book is dedicated to. What a great memorial. I know that the illustrations may remind people of Wimpy Kid, but I would say this is more of a Gordon Korman-style book (and yet with the very unique voice that Greenwald expertly wields). Make sure to grab a copy this fall.