Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sophomore Undercover: The Review

**Fair warning--this one's going to be long. But really, what else do you have to do? And don't say work. It'll still be there in ten minutes.

Done. Just finished, actually. So while the story is fresh in my mind, I figured I better get going on my review. First, a few disclaimers.

1. I haven't written a book review since sixth grade and back then they were called book reports.

2. I spent a fair amount of time and creative energy promoting this book in its pre-published state. It was kinda like the Super Bowl pregame, but on a blog. And about a book instead of a football game. And only a few people read it, whereas everyone watches the Super Bowl. Although a lot of people (mostly women and advertising professors) watch the SB for the commercials so they don' t have any interest in the pregame. So really, my original analogy was pretty accurate in that both the SB pregame and my promotion of Sophomore Undercover were somewhat overdone and both promised excitement which was based more on wishful thinking than anything else. So what I'm trying to say is, don't expect me to be objective here.

3. I wanted to do the book justice and write a professional sounding review so I went to the Kirkus Web site because I figured I'd read their review of the book and just steal some fancy words so I'd sound smart, but it turns out that you need a subscription for that sort of thing and with the economy where it is and the skyrocketing cost of Kool-Aid, I just couldn't justify the expense. I have a saying: If research proves too difficult, just wing it and hope no one notices. So I wrote the following review the way I wanted. GUIDELINES ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE, anyway.

Sidebar at Judge Ito's: I googled "kirkus sophomore undercover" and found this link to Paula Yoo's site. On the search results page it said this:

Nov. 25, 2008...called "Sophomore Undercover" coming out in February 2009...Kirkus praised the book as "a brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a...
As you can imagine, I was pretty excited. Giddy, even. Then I clicked the link and read that the above quote was attributed to Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why (which I loved, btw). Nice photo, Ben.

4. I have read a few reviews and it seems most of them are structured similarly. The first part is a summary of the book. That is followed by the reviewer's opinions. I'm not sure why every reviewer feels the need to write their own summary of the book because you can find one of those online and they're usually written by people who get paid to do such things. I think it's a little arrogant to think you can write a better one. So I'm not going to bother. Not because of the arrogance thing, just because I'm lazy and suck as summarizing.

But for those of you who somehow don't know what the book is about, here's the summary, stolen directly from Amazon:

For fifteen-year-old, adopted Vietnamese orphan Dixie Nguyen, high school is one long string of hard-to-swallow humiliations. He shares a locker with a nudist linebacker, his teachers are incompetent, and he's stuck doing fluff pieces for the school newspaper. But Dixie's luck takes a turn when he stumbles across one of the jocks using drugs in the locker room; not only does he finally have something newsworthy to write, but the chance to strike a blow against his tormentors at the school as well.

However, when his editor insists he drop the story and cover homecoming events instead, Dixie sets off on his own unconventional--and often misguided--investigation. He soon discovers that the scandal extends beyond the football team to something far bigger and more sinister than he ever thought possible. Once he follows the guidelines of his hero, Mel Nichols (journalism professor at Fresno State University and author of the textbook Elementary Journalism) this high school reporter just might save the world. That is, of course, if Dixie can stay out of juvenile hall, the hospital, and new age therapy long enough to piece it all together.

And here's my review. Note to Disney-Hyperion, Ben Esch, Steven Malk, and any publisher who buys the paperback rights: I hereby grant permission to use any and all of the following in future promotional efforts. Specifically, I'm thinking a blurb at the bottom of the cover. Yeah, I know you've got Adam Rex and all, but I've got twelve blog followers. And that doesn't even count my wife, parents, brother, and sister-in-law.

The Review:

Let's start with this: Sophomore Undercover is funny. I think that's the most important thing. If you want serious, watch CNN or read a newspaper, if you can still find one. At times like these we all need a good chuckle and if you can't laugh at penis jokes, sarcasm, and comparisons to the GDP of Paraguay, then you should get your funny bone examined. I counted three occasions where I laughed so hard I involuntarily farted. Perhaps the white chicken chili was a factor, but still.

Lesser writers would have relied on such perfectly executed humor to keep the reader interested, but Mr. Esch went ahead and threw in a plot too. The plot, like everything else in the book, is head shakingly over-the-top, but full of twists and turns. There's a piece of writing advice that says a character's problems should continue to worsen right up until the very end. Mission accomplished. Poor Dixie runs into more trouble than Louis Braille in a house of mirrors.

And then there's the eclectic mix of wacky characters: Huggy Bear, the over-affectionate counselor; Ms. Trasker, the menopausal head of the school newspaper; Dixie's cop father; and a small cadre of jock tormentors, one of which has man boobs.

Sophomore Undercover
is an orgy of hilarity. One only hopes that Esch held back a few jokes for his next book. I know I'll be reading.


Okay, so that pretty much sucked. But at least I got the first name of the main character right. Points for me. Read the book; it's funnier in person.


Ray Veen said...

I'm interested. I'm gonna read this sucker. Even though I know how it ends because you held up the last page in your vee log.

Kelly Polark said...

Funny review of a funny book! (well, I haven't read it yet, but I know it will be funny!) I HAVE to finish this last Harry Potter (almost done...) then I'm on to SU!

Unknown said...

Good thing you missed Kirkus. They weren't very nice to SU. Can read it on SU's page under Editorial Reviews. The person who wrote this obviously doesn't have a funny bone!

Unknown said...

Ben obviously pissed off someone at Kirkus. Maybe the reviewer is a cat person. In fact, probably the reviewer is a cat person. Cat people--not the most well-adjusted folks among us. (I should know.)

As to the review itself, a lot of the humor is supposed to make you cringe. That's the point. I'll only assume the reviewer also hates watching "The Office."

And just for the record,Kirkus, plenty of teen boys will appreciate reading something that takes life a little less seriously than you obviously do.

Anonymous said...


Hey! Thanks for the review. I mean, it kinda feels weird to thank somebody for a positive review, but I'm mainly just happy that you dug the book. That always feels good, and especially when the person who likes it is funny as well. Anyway, it feels awesome to make a fellow comedy writer involuntarily fart from laughter. I might never get the Printz, but nobody will ever take that accomplishment away from me. Thank you.

Ben Esch

Unknown said...

Who's writing comedy?

My current WIP is about an anorexic schizophrenic who weighs 300 pounds because one of her personalities is a gourmand. The other personality (the anorexic one) is really confused.

Hardly comedy.

Monica said...

awesome review, Paul. I can't wait to read this book. You write a good review. Remind me to ask for one, should i ever finish anything. Arggggggh!!

Seriously, tho.Kudos to you.

chris said...

paul michael murphy, please, please, please tell me that that really IS your current wip? because if so, i already want to read it so badly.

Monica said...

oh, i meant to ask.

no..never mind. i get it...

(i was going to ask what a 'wip' was, but then, just by saying the words in my head, i got it)

i may be slow, but i get there eventually.