I'm a fan of Jordan Sonnenblick's novels for older kids, having reviewed both Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (middle school) and Notes from the Midnight Driver (high school). I also interviewed Jordan last summer. The thing that I liked most about both of the above books was the way that Sonnenblick absolutely nailed the adolescent male voice. So I was curious when I heard that he had written a book for elementary school kids. I wondered how that adolescent voice would translate. I'm pleased to report, having read Dodger and Me, that Sonnenblick is just as capable of getting inside the head of a 10-year-old boy as he is of understanding middle school and high school boys. And honestly, that's all you really need to know, to know that Dodger and Me is worth your time.
No? You want more? OK. Dodger and Me is the story of 10-year-old Willie Ryan. Willie has several problems. His only friend recently moved away. A weird girl named Lizzie, from England, is following him around, embarrassing him by cheering at his baseball games. With or without Lizzie's cheering, Willie is terrible at baseball. His teammates call him Wimpy. And his mother is freakishly overprotective. But things only start to get complicated when Willie finds himself befriended by a magical blue chimp wearing an eye patch and orange Bermuda shorts. No one else can see Dodger, but Sonnenblick does seem to be playing him straight up as a real character (not an imaginary friend). The effects of Dodger's well-intentioned, but not always successful, interventions in Willie's life are plain for all to see.
This book is hilarious. Dodger is the most entertaining character I've run across in quite some time. He talks a bit like a surfer dude. He claims to have helped Babe Ruth become a better ballplayer, though he calls him "the fat guy from the Yankees who ate all the hot dogs". He has crazy ideas, and pushes Willie to take actions that he would never have taken on his own. Dodger turns out to have a brother who spent a bit too much time locked up with only a thesaurus to read. All of the brother's sentences are like this: "so sometimes--intermittently--now and again--that is to say, I occasionally find several ways to restate my point" (Page 143). (OK, this would be annoying for a whole book, but it's fun for a minor character.) Both brothers are tremendously funny.
But again, it's Willie's voice that makes Dodger and Me really stand out. I could give you examples from virtually any page in the book. Like:
"Look, if I'm going to tell you everything that happened between me and Dodger, you have to promise you won't tell. And you won't laugh. And you won't mention any of this to dumb old Lizzie from England. I have a weird feeling she wouldn't appreciate it.
Not that I care what she thinks." (Page 1)
Is that "not that I care what she thinks" a 10-year-old boy, or what? Or how about this, Willie's thoughts as he enters a local wood:
"There are signs everywhere saying things like NO TRESPASSING and DO NOT LITTLE and PICK UP YOUR TRASH. There's some typical grown-up thinking for you: If you're not allowed to trespass in the woods, then how can you litter there? And if you are not allowed to go there or litter, why would you need to pick up your trash? Finally, if you're the type who would trespass and litter in the first place, are you really going to be the kind of person who worries about picking up after yourself?" (Page 14)
And there you have it. Page 14, and I already love Willie. There's a fairly strong girl character in Lizzie, too, although Sonnenblick doesn't bring her to life in quite the same way he does Willie. This is definitely a book that will work for boys or girls. Dodger and Me also has some larger themes, about friendship, working to achieve what you want, and doing the right thing. But the reason to read it, and to rejoice in this being the first book of a series, is to spend time with Willie and Dodger. Kudos to the author and the publisher for coming out with a book so perfect for reluctant elementary school readers. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: April 29, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Becky's Book Reviews, My Sentiments Exactly!
Author Interviews: My interview of Jordan for SBBT 2007, Writing and Ruminating, Bildungsroman
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.