Friday, February 8, 2013

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton

Ever bike in 32 degree weather? I have. I thought I was shaking my fist at old man winter. Then I hit a patch of ice, found my body levitating from the ground before gravity took over and slammed me to the pavement. I should have cracked my head on the ice. Or at least knocked the wind out of my lungs, but the padding from my backpack stuffed with clothes, two hats, two scarves, two mittens, two pants, and thick insulated parka cushioned my landing like a mattress. Freaky fast Frankie Joe is much more coordinated and younger than me so when he bikes year round making money on a delivery service, he doesn't have to worry about snow and ice slowing him down. In fact, biking is the only good thing that has happened to Frankie Joe. His mom's in jail and he's been sent to live with his dad and four stepbrothers. He has missed so much school that he's a few years behind the other kids in his class. Being 5 feet 9 inches tall doesn't help. When he's put back from 8th to 5th grade, his alpha male 5th grade brother, Matt, is bent on humiliating him. Matt was number one before Frankie Joe bumped him down to number two and he has no qualms about letting Frankie Joe know he's mad, from stuffing his shorts down the toilet, to insulting him, and more.

The development of the characters is one of the strengths of this book and the fact that Matt is a well-rounded antagonist who changes and learns from his relationship with Frankie Joe makes this story interesting and full of tension.The dad's rules-oriented personality is annoying but loving toward his son that he's trying to get to know after being out of his life until now. The dad goes a bit far with the responsibility rules but it makes him more real. Mandy is very outgoing and at times insensitive which is typical of young kids and Elsie Peachcott is a no-nonsense old lady who is quite endearing and also learns from her relationship with Frankie Joe. Frankie Joe's mom is insensitive but in a self-centered, irresponsible way. She reminds me of the mom in Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer Holm. The teachers at the school are insensitive and humiliate Frankie Joe. I hate this type of character, unless they are a buffoon. I know kids like teachers being dopes in books, but it hits too close to home for me as a librarian who teaches 42 classes every 10 days. Have I accidentally embarrassed a kid? Have I been unfair?

The only thing that made me scratch my head regarding the plot was that the librarian and Frankie Joe read, Kidnapped, together but according to the principal, Frankie Joe could only read at a 4th grade level after being tested. Kidnapped is not an easy read and Frankie Joe would have had a higher vocabulary than he displayed in the chapter where he read out loud in class. It doesn't take away from the story. I just wondered about it.

The emotional pull of this story, along with the humor to lighten it, will make it a winner with readers. The line where Frankie Joe says, "I cry because mom sold her remembrance of me" and the climax where Matt gets buffaloed by the fact that Frankie Joe doesn't want to be number one are touching. I even liked the information on farming - of course, the author weaves it in the dialogue and internal changes of the characters in a way that is very interesting. This is a well-written book and I will be looking to more tales from this author to stock our library shelves.

I did debate on getting studded tires on my bike, but decided I'd let old man winter get the last laugh. Except now I'm living in a subtropical climate so maybe I did get the last laugh.

Reading Level 3.9
4 out of 5 Stars

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