This is a book intended for any kid, such as myself, who was REALLY REALLY GODDAMNED SICK OF READING ABOUT DEAD ANIMALS IN SCHOOL BOOKS. Seriously, how do they expect that they're going to get kids addicted to reading if all they read about are dead pets? I'm not gonna get started on my rant about this, but I could go on awhile if I did.
Our hero is the redundantly named Wallace Wallace, who after growing up with a compulsive liar for a dad has sworn always to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter how blunt it is, so help him God. This gets him into whopping trouble with his English teacher Mr. Fogelman when Wallace straight up says he hates Fogelman's favorite book, "Old Shep, My Pal." The author does an excellent job of describing every single middle school English class, ever.
"Old Shep, My Pal by Zack Paris is the most boring book I've read in my entire life. I did not have a favorite character. I hated everybody equally. The most interesting part came on the last page where it said "The End." This book couldn't be any lousier if it came with a letter bomb. I would not recommend it to my worst enemy."
"Old Shep, My Pal is a timeless classic!" roared the teacher. "It won the Gunhold Award! It was my favorite book growing up. Everybody loves it!"
Upon taking a poll of the room, the teacher gets a "murmur of mixed reviews" along the lines of okay, not too bad, why did it have to be so sad.
"What a heartbreaking surprise ending!"
"I wasn't surprised. I knew Old Shep was going to die before I started page one."
Why? "Because the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down."
Old Yeller, Sounder, Bristle Face, Where the Red Fern Grows (double whammy)...Suffice it to say that Wallace gets detention and misses football practice...for quite a while. Mr. Fogelman is now putting on a play he's written that adapts Old Shep for the stage, and he's going to force Wallace to watch play rehearsal until Wallace caves in and admits the book (and play) are good. This cheeses off the town's football fans, because even though Wallace, by his own admission, is an average player, he did make The Big Play To Win last year, and thus is somehow a middle school town hero. Also, his best friend Steve is no longer his best friend after that.
Here's what Mr. Fogelman didn't know: Wallace turns out to be a budding genius director. (Hell, he even has a Tom Sawyer knack for getting friends to come over and help him do chores for his mom.) Wallace has plenty of suggestions for improving this turd of a plot, and the kids absolutely eat them up. Pretty soon the show becomes a musical with a rock band and original songs, roller skating, rapping, and special-ish effects. Hell, the dog might even live! Except someone's also vandalizing the play, and Wallace is naturally the chief suspect. Wallace knows he's not, and says so, but what's going to happen when he finds out whodunit?
I thought this book was a hoot. The play gets crazier and crazier (hell, I'd want to see it, especially given the joys of rap in musicals that is 2016). There's great lines. And while I wasn't so thrilled with the main female characters (Rachel the "love interest" isn't all that much of one and the other option, Trudi, is a stereotypical boy-crazy idjit) and Mr. Fogelman manages to get over his issues surprisingly quickly, overall I was so delighted with the ensuing crazy that I loved the book. Four stars from me.
- "Any resemblance you may find to actual persons or dogs, living or dead, proves that you have a lot of strange friends." -narrator
- "The Lamont kids, Corey, Lori, Morry, and Tori, are always fighting. But when they find a dog that has been run over by a motorcycle, they all agree to nurse him back to health. They call him Old Shep, since he's a German shepherd. Then just when it looks like Old Shep is going to get better, he dies. This could have easily happened on page one when the motorcycle got him, but then this book would never have existed. What a shame." --Wallace's second review of the book.
- "I couldn't resist blurting, "Do you want to come to the mall with me this afternoon?" "I'll never forget his reply from the floor as he tried to pick up the slop." "No." What a great guy! On top of everything else, he was so nice! After all, he could easily have said something really negative! That's when I knew it was more than my third crush of the year. This time it was, like, love. You know?" --Trudi
- "If I can't put on a simple little school play, why should everybody else be able to get on with their lives?" -Mr. Fogelman
- "That parking lot is paved with the bones of teachers who are still waiting for Wallace to see it their way." -Coach Wrigley
- "Go shop for a canary, or a turtle, or a frog. 'Cause you no longer own a dog."
- "I suppose that was a jock's idea of poignant and beautiful." -Rachel
- "Wallace taught me a lesson: if you force the students to fit into the play, it'll come out lifeless and boring. But if you mold the play to showcase the talents of the students, the sky's the limit." -Mr. Fogelman
- "Directed by wallace wallace and mr fogelman"
- "This is no hype, this is no jive, your dog, Old Shep, is still alive!"
- Song titles: "Puppy Chow Blues," "Shep's the Man (Even Though He's A Dog)"
- "What's the point of having a whole story about a dog if he's only going to die?" -Nick
- "Shep is okay! Hip hip hooray! He'll live to bark another day! Shep is okay! His health is super! He's strong as the shafter of his pooper scooper!" --This, combined with what's going on at that moment in time, is especially a hoot, but I won't ruin it.
- "If he picked up a paintbrush, they'd call him Picasso." -Rachel
- "'I've starred in enough romantic comedies to know one when I see it." --Julia Roberts