Lousy (so to speak) choices in second grade lead to a climactic clash in sixth amid a whirl of clogged and exploding toilets, revenge gone awry, secret vice, and world-class rump rippers.
The last, supplied by a secondary character, bookend years of only-sometimes-successful pranks that Chub plays on ex-bestie Archer for abandoning him to general scorn and mockery after an experiment with industrial-strength lice killer leaves him permanently bald. Chub’s nonstop campaign of sabotage and other antics is capped, following his discovery that both Archer (aka “Mr. Perfect”) and the school principal are gambling addicts who are heavily in hock, by one last epic (if massively implausible) exploit at a poker tournament. He comes away with a dazzling lode of greenbacks—but also another sort of payoff as new views on the respective values of vengeance and of friendship prompt a selfless move toward real reconciliation. Chub and his hardworking parents are white, Polish immigrants; otherwise, aside from passing mention of a student’s Afro, he takes no notice of race or ethnicity in his narrative.
Overstuffed with issues, as are many first novels, but casting the apparent underdog as the bully is a provocative change of pace, and the many lamebrain stunts and alimentary jokes are at least sniggerworthy. (Fiction. 12-14)