Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli is a fascinating juvenile fantasy.

"All children, except one, grow up."

One morning in Hokey Pokey, when Jack wakes up, everything is different. It's not just that his bike Scramjet has been stolen (by a girl!), but there are other differences, too. The tattoo on his stomach, the one that every kid gets when they arrive in Hokey Pokey, is fading. And . . . well . . . things just feel different. Jack finds himself doing unexpected things, like giving away his prized baseball glove, and wandering off without his amigos LaJo and Dusty. He's listening to the sound of a train whistle that nobody else can hear. And he's thinking about a story, the story that all of the kids in Hokey Pokey know, the story of The Kid . . .

This book inevitably evokes Peter Pan, though the similarities are actually rather few. Jack is no Peter -- he resists his eventual fate for a while, and his emotions are certainly mixed, but in the end he makes a choice. And Hokey Pokey is not a watered-down version of Neverland -- it has its own mysterious geography and landmarks that will appeal to any kid, and any adult who remembers what it was like to be a kid. Spinelli's writing is excellent, though I suspect some readers will have a hard time getting past the quirks and fully engaging with the story. Once they do, though, they will find it a rewarding experience, indeed -- and one that sticks with the reader long after the last page is read. I highly recommend this book to fans of children's literature, and I suspect this is another title we'll be talking about in the fall when awards season rolls around.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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