Ninth grader, Anthony "Antsy" Bonano, whom you may already know from his first venture, The Schwa Was Here, provides a teaser on the front flap about his latest escapade: "It was a dumb idea, but one of those dumb ideas that accidentally turns out to be brilliant-which, I've come to realize, is much worse than being dumb . . . If you want to know more, like how ice water made me famous, or how I dated a Swedish goddess, you're going to have to open the book, because I'm not wasting anymore of my breath on a stinking blurb."
All right, then, that's enough incentive to dig in to this Printz Honor book. Each segment of Antsy's strangely compelling, run-on-at-the-mouth narrative begins with a chapter heading that will keep you on track, like "The Real Reason People Sit Like Idiots Watching Parades" and "People Sign Their Lives Away for the Dumbest Reasons, but Don't Blame Me, I'm Just the Idiot Who Wrote the Contract."
Antsy says the whole idea for his new concept, which he calls "timeshaving," came about because he was trying to help a friend. Antsy and his pals Howie and Ira were watching the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV when Roadkyll Raccoon, one of those huge cartoon-based balloons, caught a gust of wind and blew to the top of the Empire State Building, with three balloon wrangling guys still hanging onto the ropes. The boys hop the subway from Brooklyn to watch the unfolding disaster up close. En route, they run into classmate Gunnar Ümlaut, a Swedish kid whose "resigned look of Scandinavian despair . . . melts girls in his path." Together, the four boys witness the unthinkable-one of the three balloon guys loses his grip and plunges down. The assembled crowd is stunned, and that's when Gunnar confides in Antsy about his terminal illness, Pulmonary Monoxic Systemia, and says he only has six months to live.
Thanksgiving night, Antsy's working as the waterguy at his parents' restaurant, a little French/Italian fusion place called Paris, capische?. In ruminating about Gunnar, he loses his concentration, and pours a glass of ice water into a lady's dinner plate, which gets him in trouble, sure, but also leads him to decide, after one of his many weirdly convoluted rambles of introspection, to do something Meaningful to help Gunnar live longer. Mind you, the enigmatic Gunnar, who could give Ingmar Bergman a lesson in bleak, has been carving his own tombstone in the back yard. Antsy writes up a document on notebook paper, reading, "I hereby give one month of my life to Gunnar Ümlaut," and signs it. From there, everything snowballs. When Gunnar's gorgeous older sister, Kjersten, finds out about Antsy's generous offer, she kisses Antsy full on the mouth. She's a Junior, a whole one year and seven months older than he, and he's trying to find the ultra-cool Antsy in him to ask her for a date. And now the other students are asking Antsy for contracts to donate months of their lives to Gunnar, too.
It's a blast when you find a smart YA problem novel with such a natural blend of idiosyncratic personal narrative, hilarity, calamity, oddball characters, and unexpected pathos. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian fits that description, and so do Jordan Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver, and E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: FAMILY LIFE. FRIENDSHIP. HUMOR. SCHOOLS.
Dutton , 2008
Suggested Ages: 12 and Up