That most primal of coming-of-age narratives–cool kid gives high-school nerd a makeover–gets a fresh, smart reworking in this hilarious bildungsroman.
Needing an unofficial senior project to stave off boredom, perpetually slick, wise-assed big man on campus Matthew can think of none better than the salvaging of Michael, the class geek. Michael is "the kind that reads science fiction, plays Magic and gets all flushed and out of breath describing a computer game to his fellow geeks"; he has greasy hair, carries a filthy backpack and has a haunted look from years of bullying and mockery by the student body (hence his verbose reverence for Gandhian non-violence). Confident of his well-honed, and deftly rendered, ability to manipulate people, Matthew persuades the wary Michael to let him reconstruct his dorky image. The campaign has many uproarious fronts, from hair-care to planted rumors of Michael’s badass street-fighting chops to a subtle plot to undermine Michael’s redneck stepdad by convincing him that his favorite NASCAR driver is gay. Callow Matthew strives to convince earnest, honest Michael that perception trumps substance, but his plans come undone as people he thought were safely pigeonholed fail to respond to his button-pushing. Matthew’s hidden insecurities surface, and suddenly the story is about his own desperate need for formative influences, which duly emerge in an awkward relationship with Michael’s strange half-sister Chrissy and a horrific summer job at a masonry depot. Don’t be fooled by the "juvenile fiction" label. There’s enough foul language and disdain for education–"it was hard to think with the teacher yammering away about chemicals"–to give school librarians pause, but more importantly, Schilling’s prose is almost too good to waste on the young. He’s a wonderful comic writer, with a punchy style and colorful, nuanced characters. Matthew’s narrative voice, in particular, combines razor-sharp wit with a sublime superficiality; it’s a treat to watch Schilling steer deep insights through Matthew’s shallow waters.
A hip, funny, wise story for teens and adults alike.