Saturday, December 15, 2012

About Average by Andrew Clements

No superstar in 6th grader Jordan. No super-duper grades. No super-duper looks. No super-duper athleticism. Just your super average run-of-the-mill kid. When you read as many fantasy books as I do it is refreshing to get a normal protagonist once in a while which is what I liked best about this book. While Clements descriptions bring alive the story and characters, the forced plot kept it from standing out in a crowd.

Jordan is finishing up the school year and is in the orchestra, but  struggles at being a good instrument player. She bemoans the fact that she is average at so many things and dreams of being a superstar. What she doesn't realize is that she is good at organizing and one of her responsibilities is to set up and take down the music stands and chairs before and after orchestra practice. She's trying to deal with a bully in school and she just isn't sure what to do. When she decides to try and be nice to the bully, it seems to help her attitude and surprise the bully. When a disaster strikes the school, it is Jordan's superior planning skills that come to the rescue.

Clements mentions the build up of heat throughout the novel, that reflects the changing weather conditions and mirrors Jordan's boiling anger toward the girl who is bullying her and the impending disaster. I like his word choices when he writes, but it confused me in the chapter titled, "Furious," because Jordan's emotions were so extreme. The previous chapters paint this picture of a sweet girl and then "Bam!" this chapter starts out "Jordan Johnston was radiating massive waves of negative energy, a huge force field of harsh, burning rage." She is such a mess of anger to the teacher and others, that I thought it was a different character. I think Clements was having too much fun creating beautiful sentences and didn't realize the character was... well, out-of-character. I reread the previous chapter to see if I'd missed something about Jordan having a personality disorder. I hadn't. The next chapter explains her over-the-top anger. If the chapters had been switched and if Jordan had tried to hide her anger I would have been able to buy her extreme behavior. I see that Clements was trying to put suspense into the chapter and wanted the reader to wonder why Jordan is angry but it came off more confusing than suspenseful.

It is obvious, Clements knows his craft as pieces of the plot are pulled together such as Jordan at the start on the stage pretending to be in front of an audience imagining them clapping, to her actually being in front of a clapping audience at the end. But in other parts the story didn't flow smoothly and it felt forced such Jordan being on a winning soccer team but not getting a trophy. Instead she gets a whistle. That wouldn't happen. I've been coaching soccer for 20 years and I played as a kid and every participant whether they are a manager or player gets a trophy or ribbon. The whistle is critical to the disaster, but the author should have had it given to Jordan in addition to the trophy. Perhaps Clements wanted the unappreciative coach to look like a bully; but it was too unbelievable for me. Jordan being a type of assistant coach in soccer organizing the whole team practices was unbelievable as well. First, she's not going to know drills as a sixth grader that she can teach others. I see that Clements is showing her to be exceptionally strong in organizational skills, but it doesn't reflect the age. I could maybe buy a high-schooler doing that who had been mentored by a parent in youth coaching, but not an 11-year-old. I also was wondering Jordan's long (slightly boring) interior monologue regarding babysitting. Clements is showing that she is responsible and a planner and it ties in with the tornado but it seemed forced.

Good discussions can happen around the theme of bullying and if someone is suffering from it and this story has a good message on how to handle a person who is verbally abusive. Jordan decides that saying nice things to this girl bully in her class is the way she is going to react to her ugly comments. But the strength of the message is that by being nice, Jordan's attitude changes and allows her to not take the nasty girl's comments seriously or lose her temper. When a bully can't get a reaction, then he or she usually finds a new victim. While the plot has flaws, this story will entertain most and at 120 pages it is a good addition to an elementary library.

Reading Level 6.5

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