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Monday, March 7, 2011

Masters of Disaster, written by Gary Paulsen. Random House, 2010. ages 8 and up

""I am proposing," Henry continued,
reading carefully from his notes, "that
we Undertake and Implement a Series
of Daring Experiences and Grand
Adventures the likes of which the
history of Western Civilization has
never seen, at least not from twelve-
year-olds in suburban Cleveland.""

And so, Henry's plan is introduced to his two best friends, Riley and Reed. There appears to be nothing for normal twelve-year-old boys to do in this town and so they must make a plan to change their lives for the better, and maybe change history and attract some girls at the same time. Why else would they set out on such a ridiculously hilarious series of adventures?

Each has a part to play in the implementation of the 'daring experiences', and those parts are played according to their personalities:

"Henry smiled through the rest of his classes, daydreaming about campfires, and lean-tos made of sticks and leaves and dried mud. Reed went to the restroom twelve times and wondered: Could you possibly get frostbite in  May? Riley spent the afternoon free period in the library researching native nuts and berries that were safe to eat and brushing up on his recognition of poison oak and poison ivy."

Henry is the idea man, Reed is the dupe and the 'doer' of the deed and Riley is the chronicler of all that happens. They begin with a bike, a steep roof, a diving board, and a spring-loaded pool cover...oh, and something to tape Reed's hands to the handlebars. Despite his reluctance, it is Reed who climbs aboard and makes the attempt to set the record for somersaults on a bike. How he ends up covered in used diapers is left to Gary Paulsen's witty and hilarious descriptive writing. While some would be deterred by the lingering smell of baby poo, Reed is eager to move on the next escapade!

They certainly aren't as boring as they once were, and Reed is alive. That's all good! On they go to camping in the woods, dumpster diving, boneyards and a rodeo. They make all the right preparations and are perpetually surprised when things go wrong. Who knew about the wild animal escapees, or the chemical power of garbage, or electric fences that spawn stampedes?

Nothing thwarts them. They remain true to their characters, while providing us with slapstick hilarity, and also having fun and getting really messy doing it. How Henry lures them into the nonsense that he does can only be explained by boys who willingly let themselves be led into mischief and mayhem. They are a team, and together they will, or won't, enter the record books for non-boring adventures and experiences.

"Call 9-11-1!" My sides are aching!

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