Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach (2014)

In his first YA novel after his trilogy about Felton Reinstein, Geoff Herbach looks on the lighter side with a story about the controversy surrounding the soda vending machine in a high school cafeteria. Gabe, also known as “Chunk,” buys several sodas from the machine each day, both because he is addicted to Mountain Dew Code Red, and because he knows the money he spends helps to fund the school band, of which he is a member. He is horrified, therefore, when he learns that administration has reallocated the soda machine money to the cheerleading squad, without notifying the student body. As a result of this affront, Gabe becomes the unlikely leader of a movement of dorks who come together to reclaim their funding - and their dignity - from the clutches of the popular cheerleaders and their friends.

This book is structured so that the text of the story is actually the transcript of Gabe’s statement to the school principal after he is arrested for his involvement in the movement to win back the soda machine. Though this conceit is not completely necessary, it provides the story with an easy conversational tone that connects the reader closely to Gabe. Gabe himself is a fun character, with just the right mix of angst and humor, and his perceptions of himself are not always positive, but neither does he wallow in misery over his weight for the entire book.

Though the dorks vs. popular kids story has been done a thousand times over, Gabe makes it new again through his unique voice and his relationships with the supporting characters. Especially interesting is Gabe’s grandfather, a former bodybuilder who helps Chunk get into better shape, while also occasionally advising him on his newfound interest in activism. Also significant to the success of this book is its ability to tell a story about bullying without delving into darkness or didacticism.

Unlike Stupid Fast and its sequels, which mainly suit a high school audience, Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders is more appropriate for middle schoolers. Though it pales in comparison to Herbach’s other books, it’s still a solid read and it could appeal to readers who have enjoyed Fat Kid Rules the World, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and Nerd Camp.

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