© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012

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Guys Read: Funny Business

Edited by Jon Scieszka

Reviewed by Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: Both boys and girls, ages 12 and Up. Though Guys Read is obviously dedicated to young male readers, this collection of essays contains such a trove of fantastic writers it would be criminal to deny them to anyone based on gender.

One Word Summary: Eclectic.

There’s a little of everything in Guys Read: Funny Business, from marauding robots to demonic turkeys and everything in between. As a collection of essays, of course, there are high points and low points but on whole Jon Scieszka’s roundup of rib-ticklers is laced with daring humor, boarders on naughty, and offers young readers an unfiltered, unapologetic dose of the kind of comedy that they’re hankering for.

The Good: To this reader’s sense of humor, Mac Barnett’s story ‘Best of Friends’, which opens the book, was the funniest. The plot concerns Dean, a fourth grader who runs bets from the sidelines of P.E., and otherwise tries to fly below the radar of the bigger kids who would pummel him. One day Ernest, the nerdiest kid in class, claims to have won an improbable sweepstakes, earning him two tickets to the Nesquick Chocolate factory. If the factory is anything like the commercials make it out to be, Ernest and his friend will be riding down chocolate water slides and floating in giant chocolate lagoons, something along the lines of a Six Flags designed by Willy Wonka. The only problem is Ernest doesn’t have any friends. The race is then on among Dean and his opportunistic classmates to see who can endure Ernest’s weirdness long enough to be named his new best friend.

Bookending the collection nicely is Jack Gantos’ ‘The Bloody Souvenir’, which provides the most pleasurably disgusting laughs of

the book. The story features Jack, a boy whose hoodlum neighbors, the Pagoda boys, lure him over to the recklessly stupid side with homemade catapults and flaming swimming pools. Jack goes so deep into the abyss of imbecility that he decides to remove a painful wart from the bottom of his foot with a pair of rusty needle-nose pliers, a cringe inducing yet thoroughly enjoyable page to read if ever there was one. Other strong contributions came from Christopher Paul Curtis’ ‘What? You Think You Got It Rough’ (a boy listens to his grandfather recollecting the sadistic yet totally hilarious pranks by which his own father would frighten his kids to pieces) and Jeff Kinney’s ‘Unaccompanied Minors’ (Kinney’s chronicle of the sadistic yet totally hilarious pranks he and his younger brother Patrick used to play on one another).

The Not So Good:  My only trouble with the collection came in the middle, from David Yoo’s ‘Fist Full of Feathers’. It’s one of the longer stories at 38 pages, and it felt it. The story concerns fifth grader Sam and his father’s bizarre efforts to ‘make a man’ of the boy. Sam’s dad thinks his son is ‘positively girly’, building hair salons with his Legos, adopting vegetarianism, and playing ice cream parlor with his Polly Pocket Dolls. To attempt to cure his son of this typically feminine behavior, Sam’s dad buys a turkey for the boy to raise in the back yard to teach him some kind of responsibility. Sam of course is petrified of the animal, which he swears is out to murder him in his sleep, and Sam’s dad ends up bonding with the turkey who is more adept at soccer than his own son. Perhaps I’m letting my adult perspective spoil whatever fun was meant to be in the story, but I found the parental rejection that Sam suffered because of his femininity heartbreaking and very difficult to read. Handled properly the focus of the comedy could have been on the absurdity of the father (and in parts it was) but too many of the jokes that Yoo contrived were poking fun at the fact that Sam liked to help his babysitter dye her hair or wasn’t particularly good at sports, the same aspects that his father or a bullying classmate might ridicule him for. In the end Sam’s father expresses pride in his son, but he does so because Sam takes strides in his father’s more masculine direction. Because his father never comes to terms with his son’s feminine traits I felt like any real message of true, loving acceptance that this story could have resulted in was lost.

That aside, Funny Business is a strong collection that delivers genuine laughs and is bold enough to go a little risqué with kids rather than pandering to them with one fart joke after another. The humor is tastefully handled but just edgy enough to give kids the thrill of feeling like they’re reading something their parents might forbid.