In an effort to maybe, perhaps, hopefully get caught up on all the books I haven’t reviewed, I’m planning to start doing mini-reviews every couple of weeks for books that I read but didn’t have much to say about. If you have more specific questions about any of this week’s titles, leave them in the comments!
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Justin Berk
Life as a teenager is tough, but the situation that Will “Hamburger” Haplin finds himself in may be tougher than usual. Will is deaf and starting his first year at a public high school. He has to sit in the corner of every class to help him read lips, and his hefty physique and a burgeoning friendship with the second least popular guy in school aren’t helping matters either. When a popular classmate is killed on a field trip, Will and his new friend Devon set themselves on the case.
It offered virtually everything I like in YA novels, a smart, quirky protagonist with a distinctive voice, genuine adolescent struggles, humor, and a strong, well-told story. The murder mystery was icing on the cake.
I read the book with high expectations and, unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as enamored by it as I hoped I would be even though I read the book in a single sitting. I didn’t connect with Will’s quirkiness as much as I expected (and his total disregard for his health/weight was hard to read). But I did like the mystery/amateur sleuthing in the story, and I thought Berk did a good job showing what it might be like to try and experience high school as a deaf student.
Codex by Lev Grossman
Technically, Codex by Lev Grossman isn’t a young adult book. The protagonists — young investment banker Edward Wozny and medievalist Margaret Napier — aren’t teenagers, the story isn’t set in high school, it’s not even a coming of age story. But I couldn’t help thinking how YA-like the book feels.
Edward is about to start a vacation when he is summoned to one last assignment with a mysterious client — sorting and organizing the family library while searching for an ancient book that may not even exist. He enlists Margaret’s help to find the book, and spends the rest of the story searching for the codex and discovering parallels between the book an a beta computer game that he’s become obsessed with.
Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with this one. I think the YA-ness of the book comes from the simplicity of the language; the plot is oddly intricate, but the writing is very plain. There were lovely moments, but the two worlds Edward was living in (the codex search and a computer game) felt forced together and the ending was entirely anti-climactic. It was disappointing… but I love Lev Grossman, so I’m not too upset about it!
Disclosure: I checked out The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin from the library and purchased my copy of Codex.