Gary Paulsen’s target audience continues to confound me. I usually enjoy his stories. They are totally relatable and accessible especially for a boy audience, but some of them are so very short (this one comes in at 96 pages, printed). I’m thinking specifically of the Liar, Liar and Flat Broke books (which I didn’t actually like much for reasons in addition to a muddled audience), and the Paintings from the Cave novella collection that I loved.
I know that his target is reluctant readers, and I know that “long books” can be a stumbling block to those readers, and there’s nothing wrong with a novella-length story, but all these stories I’ve mentioned are solid middle school stories (age 11 and up for sure). There’s not always objectionable content, but simple mature content (boy/girl stuff, sometimes some “heavy” parent issues like verbal abuse or alcoholism), but I think the length relegates them to “kid fare” from librarians and the kids who are looking at them as well.
I’ll step down off my soapbox now to give my thoughts on The Boy Who Owned the School (which amazon lists as recommended for 3rd or 4th grade up — I object!). Jacob Freisten has decided that the best way to survive high school is to be invisible. However, that’s impossible since his English teacher has forced him to volunteer in the school play to bring up his failing grade, and the gym teacher is out to get him.
He doesn’t do a complete turnaround, but as expected, he does end up experiencing some perks after working on the play.
This read like a short story. I enjoyed it well enough (and see below for what I think would be a great way to enjoy it), but a story that had a similar theme, yet much stronger plot and character development is Warp Speed.
AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This is a short book, less than two hours long, so it might be a nice way to do something together as a family on a road trip. I’ve heard Nick Podehl read other Gary Paulson books, and I like his narration style. He has a pleasant voice and delivers this story in a sort of dry, self-deprecating way. You can hear a sample at the Brilliance Audio site.