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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scrawl, written by Mark Shulman. Square Fish, Macmillan. 2012. Raincoast Books. $10.99 ages 12 and up

"Well, I don't know about real writing. Or real writers. I don't think writers are like real people. They're different. They know a lot about everything and have a lot to say and people want to listen. They've seen the world. They've all got a house full of books. I like reading. It's free travel. And I like the writer's quotes on Mr. Harmon's door. He even put a new writer's quote up on the door yesterday."

 What a voice! Scrawl reveals within its pages the tale of a bad boy, told from his point of view. I'm glad I started reading it during the day, or it would have been another sleepless night. One sitting, and that's the truth!

It is Tod's honest, humorous, self-deprecating voice that earns top credits. After his latest illegal action (attempting to steal the school's video camera), Tod is assigned to daily detention with Mrs. Woodrow, the school's guidance counsellor whose job is to supervise his punishment for the foreseeable future. She has agreed to the arrangement, and doesn't get in Tod's way of sharing his thoughts and actions each day. Tod is not amused; but, it is better than cleaning the schoolyard with his partners in crime.

Tod is not the only character we meet; in fact, he introduces us to a number of others through his journal entries. We meet the 'droogs', his three buddies. When he speaks of home, we meet his mother and stepfather and learn something about the life they have together. We meet some of the teachers and learn about this inner city school where guards man the doors and free lunch programs assure food for the day. And we meet Luz, the girl who is a bit of an outcast herself. His attraction to Luz, her upcoming play, and her need for costumes fashioned by Tod's seamstress mother (or not) lead to some of the funniest scenes in the book.

As he perseveres through his detentions, Tod is surprised:

"I'm getting really fast. And six weeks later, I don't even realize I'm writing anymore. It just happens. I look up and an hour's gone by, and everything I've been thinking about is right there on the paper. It's interesting how much thinking I end up doing when I write. I remember things pretty well, too. Back at the start of detention, Mrs. W. made me promise I wouldn't make up anything, and I kept my word the whole time. I just left stuff out that could get someone in trouble (Like me.) Sometimes for fun I dropped little hints."

There is so much to admire about this book, and some very apt revelations as Tod learns more about himself and begins to change. It is a great read, and it will cause the reader to think deeply about perceptions. Add to that, a 'perfect' ending!

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