Rating: 4 1/2 stars
While “Sophomores and Other Oxymorons” is the sequel to David Lubar’s “Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie,” it also works as a stand alone read. Lubar ably includes enough information (without making it seem awkward) that the reader knows enough about Scott Hudson’s freshman year to understand the humor and action in this story.
Scott Hudson’s freshman year was challenging. But he made it through, and he and his best friend Lee are ready to start their sophomore year at high school. Lee is quite different from Scott — she wears dark clothing, usually horror-related tee shirts, and has brightly dyed hair. Scott comments about her appearance and says, “…she had so many piercings, I was surprised her spine hadn’t snapped under the weight of all the metal.”
Scott also has a former best friend, Wesley, and an infant brother named Sean. His father lost his job as a mechanic and his mother is thinking of going back to work. But Scott is thrilled that finally he won’t be the lowest guy on the totem pole — a freshman. His thinking is that being a sophomore, he’ll have it made.
The book is filled with Scott’s ups and down — all cleverly documented with both humor and touching prose as only Lubar can do. While some may claim that no sophomore on earth would talk the way Scott does as he narrates the events in the story, Scott is a writer. He loves to study words and word play. He says things like, “From what I’d seen, a baby’s digestive tract is a sort of specialized ecosystem that serves merely to turn money into crap.”
Grammar nerds will love sections like the one in which the narrator, Scott, is corrected by Jeremy, his freshman sidekick. Scott begins the exchange: ‘”Everyone would want to see the next issue to find out if they’d guessed right, or to learn the answer if they couldn’t figure it out.” “If he or she had guessed right,” Jeremy said. “What?” “Everyoneis singular,” Jeremy said.’ (Only grammar nerds will even understand that exchange.)
The story also includes Scott’s diary entries to his baby brother. He is writing so that his wisdom will be imparted to his younger sibling someday. In fact, when Jeremy is assaulted on his first day of high school, Scott offers to sell to Jeremy his “manual” on how to make it through freshman year. Jeremy not only buys it; he has many friends buy the “manual,” which really consists of many pages printed out on a copier.
The book is filled with the twists and turns of Scott’s life and his relationship with Lee. What comes through is Scott’s intelligence, his brashness, his insecurity (especially with Lee), and his sense of honor. Lubar creates a really likable character, and he’s all the more likable when he becomes arrogant or boastful and then suffers because of it. There is a scene toward the beginning of the novel when Scott butts head with his English teacher.
He hadn’t bothered to reread the novel for summer reading because he had read it twice before. But the quiz on the first day was about specifics from the novel that he didn’t remember. So he didn’t do well on it. But when he asks the teacher if there is something he can do to make up the points, she tells him to write an essay on arrogance. He responds “Great. I’m really good at it.” The teacher replies, “Perhapsirony would be a better topic for you.” Scott doesn’t understand at that moment that she’s aiming her irony at him. When he confidently assures her that he can write 500 words “with my eyes closed” she ups the word count to 1000. His unwittingly arrogant response is “Piece of cake.” She ups the ante to 2000. At that point he wisely keeps his mouth shut.
There is more, much more of that kind of subtle and sophisticated humor, all beautifully written and extremely clever. The book is more than just a cleverly written novel, though. There is plenty of action, and there are many paths that Scott might take. And his choices effectively illustrate the “law” that choices determine consequences we must live with — for better or for worse. Scott does mature over the course of his sophomore year while still enjoying his adventures — most of the time. Best of all, he and his friends end up becoming heroes.
Clever, touching, educational (I still don’t know what bdelgymia is), and humorous — this is a young adult book that’s fun to read and fun to share.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Dutton Books, for review purposes.