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Friday, January 30, 2015

A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genuis, written by Stacey Matson. Scholastic Canada, 2014. $14.99 ages 10 and up

"Why did I ever think I could be a writer? I have all these ideas in my head, but I don't know how to write them down. Or else I tell Nicole or Luke about them, and then when I try to write them down, all my ideas are gone. It's like someone took them away as soon as I said them out loud. I can't make my brain work. I can't even make my fingers type."

Oh, grade seven! Do you remember anything about it? I have some vivid memories of days spent with friends, and the angst of adolescence. Arthur has much more to deal with than I did at the time.

Using variety in presentation, Stacy Matson (in her debut novel) helps us get to know Arthur through his assignments for class, the entries he makes in his journal, notes from his teachers and the emails that he writes. Arthur considers himself to be quite the exceptional writer, but he is definitely struggling with sharing his skills in any obvious way.

Writing has become more of a challenge since his mother's unexpected and untimely death in the spring of his sixth grade year. He returns to school later than other students in the fall, and that return has been very difficult for him. His writing now consists of bitter musings, or copying what others have written. These problems are generally faced with humor and offer some very funny moments for readers:

 “Most people say that it’s geeky
 That a boy who makes sweaters should quit
 But that’s when I say something cheeky:
 I tell them, ‘It takes balls to knit!’”

The secondary characters add heft to the telling. Up until March when she breaks her hip, Ms. Whitehead provides thoughtful and useful assignments for her students. She gives Arthur clear and helpful advice for his writing and encouragement to compete in the school writing contest. His confrontations with another student who struggles where Arthur does not has Ms. Whitehead setting him up to tutor Robbie. Their individual progress reports for the peer tutoring program show their developing friendship, while also being hilarious at times. Writing for the school newspaper introduces another teacher, Mr. Everett, who encourages Arthur to submit articles about a variety of topics and provides constant feedback concerning his writing.

Arthur is interested in winning the writing contest. He is also enamored of Kennedy and badly wants to win her heart. As his writing partner, Kennedy offers encouragement for his work through a series of very personal emails that recount her relationships, her hopes and dreams, and her ebullient personality:

"My bf wants to go as Fred and Wilma from the FLINTSTONES LOL! I told him that was crazy since I have BLOND hair, not red LOL! Now I think we will go as a fisherman and a mermaid LOL!"

So many of the various interactions made me laugh out loud, and some made me want to cry. I loved every minute spent reading about this young man and his relationships. Arthur may have his flaws concerning honesty; he is also intuitive, smart, capable of being a good friend and oh, so funny!

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