If you are a boy, if you’ve ever been a boy, if you have sons or brothers, you will laugh out loud as you read this book. Reginald Raab, language arts teacher at Pine Street Elementary, draws on some of his own experiences to create this most outrageous story. From a bee sting/first date catastrophe, to a bite by a forty pound snapping turtle, from a bare butt stuck on the principal’s icy car, to a game of hockey on a not-so-frozen sewer pond, fourteen-year-old Ben travels from one hilarious situation to the next. Accompanied by a cast of loyal friends, he navigates self-induced disasters throughout his first year of high school and in the process learns a little bit about growing up.
Surviving Me reads more like a series of anecdotes than a smoothly-ordered tale, but the scenes build on each other and tie together in an emotional climax. The story’s most appealing asset, however, is humor. Mr. Raab had me chuckling to myself time and again. He has an amazing talent for thinking up quirky word pictures. And with his deft use of exaggeration and a teenager’s distinctive point of view, he spins each scene into a comedy. Consider my favorite, Ben’s first date:
I screamed. “OUCH!!!!” If felt like a bullet went through my spine. I jumped forward screaming. “Ahhh!!! Help me. Ahhh!!!”
Chrissie looked at me in horror – then grabbed my shoulders. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?”
My body was twisting and contorting. I reached for the door in desperation.
Her dad slammed on the brakes screeching to a halt.
I jumped out pulling at the back of my shirt.
Her dad got out and clutched my clothing. “What is it boy!?”
I was breathing like I was giving birth – in a series of pants. “Something bit me in the spine!”
He pulled up my shirt. “Woaw! I’ve never seen that kind before. Hold still a minute.” He grabbed a pair of tweezers out of the emergency pack from his trunk. “It’s still lodged in your skin.”
“What is it!?” I demanded. “A bullet-!?”
“A bee,” he said like it was a piece of lint or something.
Chrissie looked at my back and laughed.
I felt a tug as if he were pulling a foot long stinger out of my back.
“You’re okay now.”
I turned expecting to see a bee the size of his fist. I kept looking. I squinted and leaned in closer to his hand. Then I saw it on the tip of his tweezers. I was thinking this must be a little part of it where is the rest of him?
He dropped it to the ground. Not that you could see it fall or anything being the size of an atom.
Unfortunately, the book has one drawback – the editing staff at Publish America. The book has many punctuation and spelling errors, even a slip from first person to third. In fact, when Ben and his friends prepare to break into an adoption office, the sign on the door read, “Gone to lunch: be back in an our.” Ben then quips, if their security is as bad as their spelling, this will be easy. I had become so accustomed to typos that I needed to read the segment twice before the pun registered. This is so unfortunate, because the book is otherwise very engaging.
I would still highly recommend Surviving Me, probably for readers ages 10-13, even though the main character is slightly older. The book walks a fine line between the middle reader/YA category, but tweens and emerging teens, I believe, will best appreciate the humor of Ben’s crazy antics. Adults, however, shouldn’t rule this one out – especially those adults who still laugh over the stunts they pulled as kids.
Find a copy online. Or for better deal, pick up a copy at the Pine Street Elementary school library.