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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*How to Get Suspended and Influence People* by Adam Selzer- young adult book review
Also by Adam Selzer:

I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It

The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History
How to Get Suspended and Influence People
by Adam Selzer
Grades 6-8 192 pages Laurel Leaf September 2008 Paperback    

In Adam Selzer's debut novel, the controversial subject of sex education in the classroom is challenged. Leon "Noside" Harris, so named by his inventor parents as a snub to the thieving inventor Thomas Edison, gets an assignment as part of his gifted pool curriculum to make an educational video that will be used in classes to educate younger students about sex.

Leon is a facetious teenager, smart and sarcastic, and although derisive toward his parents' inventive natures, he's inherited their curiosity and creative thinking. In a bold move, Leon decides to tackle the sex education video in hopes that he'll communicate to other kids that all the things they're experiencing are normal and nothing to be ashamed of, even though they are rough to weather. He attempts to fashion his video in surrealistic style and sets out to create an avant-garde sexual education classed titled La Dolce Pubert, full of random images and symbolic explosions - especially explosions - reminiscent of Fellini and Salvador Dali.

It doesn't take long for Leon's work to raise eyebrows with the school administration. Before Leon knows it, the entire situation has gone beyond raised eyebrows when the head of the gifted pool, citing moral issues, confiscates a copy of his film. Her interference helps Leon to get suspended over a film no student has even had a chance to see, leaving Leon to try to find a way to get his video to the masses as well as discover a way to keep himself from being silenced.

The premise of the novel hinges on censorship in public schools and the ongoing debate about what sort of sexual topics are appropriate to study in a classroom setting. Selzer tackles an interesting topic in How to Get Suspended and Influence People but unfortunately doesn't follow through with it. The bulk of the novel follows Leon through his research on surrealism and his efforts to get the romantic attention of Anna, one of his friends. Leon and his friends continually reiterate the normalcy of puberty as well as their derision toward kids outside their socially outcast group.

With all these things going on, the censoring of the film and Leon's subsequent suspension are only a small portion of the end of the novel, tied up too quickly with a villain who is cast in a completely one-dimensional light. Leon's story fails to show both sides of the debate, succeeding only in demonizing those who have valid concerns about the type of sexual education taught in public schools.

Leon's voice alternates; the point of view of a young boy often shifts into odd stretches where Selzer's characterization falters, and instead of a teenage Leon, we are reading the reflections of the author as he remembers being young. These episodes are few and far between, mostly occuring during anecdotal paragraphs, but they are jarring when they crop up. Otherwise, the narrative is solid and accessible.

While the concept of surrealism nicely parallels the confusion of a teen's life, especially with respect to sexuality, the theme doesn't hold together throughout the book. Older readers might find the theme weak and also be disappointed in the caricature of the "bad guy," while younger readers will probably overlook it completely but identify with Leon's wisecracking, fight-the-man approach to middle school and enjoy the story of a clever kid trying to survive school, get his girl, and outsmart the system.

How to Get Suspended and Influence People is followed by Selzer's Pirates of the Retail Wasteland.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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