Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (2011)

I am neither male nor sporty, but I have always loved young adult realistic fiction with male narrators and sports themes. How I managed to miss last year’s Stupid Fast, even after it won a 2011 Cybils Award, completely blows my mind. Thankfully, though, a representative from Sourcebooks visited my library system recently, and included in the presentation was a plug for all three of Geoff Herbach’s books about Felton Reinstein.

Felton is fifteen, and lately he’s been dealing with some changes. For one thing, he can’t seem to stop growing, and every inch of him suddenly has hair. His mom, a hippy who insists on being called Jerri, is also starting to lose her mind, a problem which may or may not be related to Felton’s dad’s suicide ten years before. Pretty much overnight, Felton discovers he is fast, and the football team suddenly starts asking him to work out with them even though he’s never played before in his life. On top of that, Felton’s best friend has gone away for the summer and staying in his house is an African-American piano prodigy, whose talent catches Felton’s eye as well as that of his little brother, Andrew, who is also talented on the piano. The entire story is told from Felton’s point of view on one night late in summer when he just can’t fall asleep.

I think the biggest thing that makes me love a book is the main character’s voice, and Felton has one of the best YA voices I’ve read. He reminded me, at times, of some of Chris Crutcher’s characters, like TJ in Whale Talk, and Moby from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. At other times, I was sure he was channeling Karl Shoemaker from Tales of the Madman Underground or Guy Langman from Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator. Felton is self-aware and self-deprecating, funny even when he thinks he’s not, sometimes selfish, sometimes giving, very talkative, even if only inside his own brain, and messed up in the way that all people are messed up when they’re trying to survive puberty. Being inside his thoughts for 300 pages was a treat, and even now, having finished the first book and not yet moved onto the second, I am carrying Felton around with me, still sometimes seeing the world from his point of view instead of my own. His voice is infectious, and it lingers for a while after the book is over.

Plot-wise, Stupid Fast is just as engaging as its protagonist. Felton’s journey from the weird kid everyone calls “Squirrel Nut” to a confident and competent member of a sports team is interesting enough on its own, but family dysfunction and romance really add to the reader’s interest and keep the pages turning. Jerri’s slow retreat from her duties as mother and Andrew’s strange behaviors in reaction to the loss of his mother actually made me worry for their future, and concern for Felton’s relationship with Aleah after his mom makes a fool of herself in the neighborhood, kept me up until 2 AM when I finally finished the book and felt satisfied.

In addition to the 2011 Cybils Award in Young Adult Fiction, Stupid Fast also received well-deserved recognition from YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Junior Library Guild, and the American Booksellers Association. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and a great read-alike for books by Allen Zadoff, Josh Berk, Chris Crutcher, Eric Luper, and Rich Wallace. The second book about Felton, entitled Nothing Special, was released in May 2012. I’m With Stupid, the third in the series, will be published in May 2013.

Geoff Herbach can be heard reading the beginning of Stupid Fast (with a few differences from the published text) here - it’s a great preview of the book and just as fun to listen to even if you’ve already read the whole story.

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