books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 


I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made - Stephan Pastis

What is there to like?

▪ This book genuinely made me laugh. Not like “oh, yes indeed I suppose that was rawther funny, hrm hrm” but actual laughs. I think this comes from Pastis’s professionalism as a cartoonist—his artwork is spare, but effective, and the artwork is the punchline to the funniest jokes, rather than simply illustrating it after the fact. (The chapter in which the mom’s boyfriend is introduced is hilarious.)

▪ Timmy’s voice is also genuinely funny! It’s an extremely fine line between making an oblivious-yet-self-assured narrator sound funny and making him just sound like an overly sarcastic know-it-all, and Pastis never puts a toe on the wrong side of that line.

▪ Timmy often resembles an un-self-aware Calvin (of “and Hobbes”), in terms of his precociousness (in some things), his overdeveloped vocabulary, his preference for his own imagination over the company of friends his age, and his furry companion. But this book breaks with tradition for Timmy’s relationship with his teacher. That’s not to say that Timmy’s run-ins with Old Man Crocus aren’t classic class troublemaker-vs.-teacher entertainment, but it’s really great that Pastis chose to include a teacher who understands how to help Timmy succeed in the end, rather than leaving it at that.


What's not to like?

▪ Please, kid-lit authors, stop using the “kids try to avoid getting into trouble by lying about a non-existent play” device. It’s super old and overused, and it probably wasn’t funny the first time someone used it.


Similar To:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney and Dork DiariesRachel Renée Russell (I assume, not having read either.)

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson



What made me pick it up?

This book has been getting a huuuuuuuuuuge publicity push from Candlewick for months (I think there was a full month when 99% of their Twitter posts were Timmy Failure-related), and loath as I am to say that a marketing campaign worked on me personally, I was curious to see if the book lived up to the hype.Even so, I must say I didn’t expect to like this book more than just passing amusement. I was especially leery when I read this interview with Stephan Pastis, because the kind of character he describes as his inspiration for Timmy is the type of character I find physically uncomfortable to watch, rather than a source of entertainment. I’m glad that Timmy both fails to live up to and exceeds my expectations in that sense.


Overall Recommendation: Recommended! 3.5 stars? I don't know; star ratings are hard. This book is pretty light entertainment, but it's good at being that.