Sunday, December 21, 2014

"I Funny" by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Before I even started to read this book, I wanted to hate it. I really, really did. I don't care if that seems unfair. I take issue with James Patterson's rapid descent on the world of children's books, his use of ghostwriters to write all the stories that he merely outlines and rigorously edits, and the fact that his name is usually the most prominent feature on his books' covers. I miss the days when the children's department didn't have an entire shelf dedicated to the recent offerings of a single person. On average, there are new installments from at least two of his series and a entire section of the shelving dedicated to James Patterson every time I visit a bookstore. I wish that he would give his ghostwriters top billing and change his role to editor. It seems like it would be a better fit. He could get his own imprint with a publisher. Then he could stop plastering his name across book covers in astronomical font sizes, that egomaniacal habit so pervasive among writers that come from the adult market. I don't have a problem with James Patterson personally. From what I've read about him, he seems to have his heart in the right place. He's trying to save the publishing industry from the seemingly inevitable Amazon monopoly. His writing methods are what irk me. They're what make me reticent to sing his praises. There, rant over. I'm glad to have gotten that off of my chest.

And now, I have a confession. I loved I Funny. For all my misgivings, this book was one of the most pleasant reading surprises I have had this year. I fell for Jamie's charm right away. I immediately disliked Stevie Cosgrove. In fact, I was hoping that Stevie would end up in jail before the story was over, the little monster. That might have been the one thing I thought was a little played out about this story. I'm kind of over the maniac bully character that too many authors plant in their stories about adolescents and preteens. These bully characters parade about in a reign of unchecked terror, and there is never any adult intervention. Stevie fit that stereotype to the letter. Jamie, though, was refreshing and unusual. 

The descriptions of his character might have been a little too reliant on phrases that children simply don't use, but I loved his depth. There were moments when I was thinking, "No kid would ever describe something that way!" but it was rare enough that I was able to let it slide, and I'd usually be rewarded for my tolerance with some glimpse into his inner psyche that would pull me into his character just a little bit more. Jamie had a reluctant underdog spirit that made him impossible not to root for. He sat on his backstory long enough that despite the main plot being reasonably compelling, I was dying to know his unspoken past before it was all over.

My other favorite characters were his Uncle Frankie and Cool Girl. Each of them played Jamie's go-to bastions of wisdom at different points in the story. It puzzled me that Jamie was adopted by the Cosgroves when he had such a close relationship with his biological Uncle Frankie. It's nice that Jamie had family like Uncle Frankie, but it was a relationship that tugged at the back of my mind as I read. Why didn't Uncle Frankie adopt Jamie? They had such a loving relationship, yet Uncle Frankie let Jamie be set up with a random foster family whose violent son torments Jamie endlessly.

Cool Girl, on the other hand, was the kid that was wise beyond her years. She seemed to come out of nowhere and just turn Jamie inside out. Everything she does changes Jamie's outlook on his life in Long Island. She kind of reminded me of Stargirl Carraway in that regard, so of course she was an instant success in my eyes.

When all was said and done though, I loved this book for Jamie's sense of humor. Jamie's defense mechanism for any mistreatment or sympathy he received was to crack a joke, and he had an endless supply of one-liners memorized. He also created his own material, and despite what you might expect to come from a middle school student, a lot of his material was alright. Though the book never shied away from its narrative element, the comedy was what set it apart from so many other stories of its ilk.

And so, I have to give I Funny its due. It was a good book. Though I'm tempted to give Chris Grabenstein most of the credit, I begrudgingly credit Patterson with playing some role in the book's creation as well. I'll probably read the other books in the series. As little as I like to admit it, I've been sucked into the Patterson fold with this series, or at the very least the Patterson/Grabenstein fold. I suppose I was wrong to want to hate it before I'd even tried it. Though Patterson doesn't conduct his writing career in a traditional manner, he can still lay partial claim to some entertaining books.

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