A nostalgic Christmas fable strikes an engaging balance between humor and heart.
With his penchant for booger jokes and infatuation with 1960s rock-’n’-roll, the Pulitzer Prize–winning former columnist and prolific author (Dave Barry’s Money Secrets, 2006, etc.) has proven inordinately successful at channeling his inner 13-year-old. This short, easily digestible, first-person reminiscence invites the reader to identify its fictional narrator, a junior-high student, with the author. Not only do they share the same initials, but Doug Barnes lives in the place and era of Barry’s adolescence—Asquont, N.Y., 1960. Christmas in this commuter town 30 miles north of New York City has some amusing traditions, including a “Manger War,” in which Catholic and Protestant kids play pranks involving each other’s displays, and a Christmas Eve pageant that suffers a series of calamities. After the previous year’s mishap, in which the vase intended as a gift for baby Jesus shattered and he was instead presented with a Rolodex, Doug finds himself demoted from Wise Man to shepherd. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, since it’s fun carrying a staff, if this year Judy Flanders hadn’t been selected to play Mary. Judy is the girl of Doug’s dreams, one of the most popular, and nicest, girls in school, and one of the few who’ll both talk to and dance with Doug. (This doesn’t make him special; she’s like that with everyone.) Pivotal plot developments include the accumulation of bat poop in the belfry of Doug’s church and the Christmas Eve death of the Barnes family’s beloved dog (who was older than Doug) and their unexpected adoption of a new one. Walter the Christmas miracle dog becomes Doug’s guardian angel, Doug becomes Judy’s hero and the holiday ends happily for everyone.
Dickens needn’t fear the competition, but a Very Barry Christmas should prove a holiday favorite for years to come.