Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: I'm with Stupid by Geoff Herbach (2013)

I’m with Stupid is the conclusion to Geoff Herbach’s trilogy about nerd-turned-jock Felton Reinstein. (The first two books were Stupid Fast and Nothing Special.) In this last book, Felton is now a high school senior and a major football star. He’s being recruited by a number of schools, and ESPN will broadcast his college decision on television. Aleah, Felton’s girlfriend, is being uncharacteristically distant, while Andrew and Grandpa Stan fret about Felton’s well-being from their home in sunny Florida. As his senior year wears on, Felton must deal with his mother’s latest disgusting affair, his troubled freshman mentee, who desperately needs someone bigger and stronger to protect him, and his continued discovery of similarities between himself and his father, who committed suicide. Felton has learned to deal with being stupid fast, now he just has to learn how not to be stupid.

I have loved Felton’s voice from the beginning of the first book, and I was pleased to return to it one last time for this enjoyable final installment in his life story. Felton is troubled, but completely lovable as well, and the reader can both sympathize with his pain and wish the best for him, and also completely understand why he sometimes wants to be self-destructive. Dark themes figure heavily in this book. There is a lot of drinking, lots of discussion of death, a couple of abusive parents - and yet, the book itself is not a “dark YA novel.” Rather, it is a novel about overcoming the dark things in life to make room for the light. Felton is haunted by his dad’s death, but he also has a lot of people to love and support him if only he will let them in. This is not a book glorifying death and destruction. Rather, it’s a story about how one teenage boy who has been failed by adults and wounded by circumstances beyond his control gets his act together in time to join the real, adult world.

This book strikes a nice balance between the non-stop humor of the first book and the almost overly-emotional lovefest that makes up a lot of the second book. Felton’s journey has been anything but easy, and I appreciate that Herbach didn’t give him a neat and tidy resolution early on. Though each book is a story of its own, it is the series as a whole that gives a complete portrait of Felton’s transformation, not just physically, but on the inside, too. I’m with Stupid is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of sports-themed fiction by authors like Rich Wallace, Mike Lupica, and Chris Crutcher, but it also has the literary appeal of books by John Green, David Levithan, or Robert Lipsyte. This makes it a book that can appeal to a wide audience, and I think teens who choose to read it will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the depth of the story, as well as its entertainment value.

I’m with Stupid is best for high school readers who have read the other books in the series. I think readers could enjoy this book without reading the first two, but it wouldn’t have the same impact without all of the backstory of the first two books. For another great story about troubled teens overcoming the adversity of their lives, also try John Barnes’s 2010 Printz Honor book, Tales of the Madman Underground.

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