by David Lubar
The slightly tawdry world of boardwalk arcades along the New Jersey shore is just one of the attractions of Lubar's (Hidden Talents) engrossing novel. From the first moment soon-to-be-11th-grader Chad hears the boardwalk clown hurling insults ("His voice ripped the air like a chain saw," the novel begins), the teen is mesmerized. The "bozo," whose witty barbs lure passersby to try and drop him into a water tank, represents all that Chad is not: "Nobody ignored him. Nobody looked down on him or told him he was a loser." The boy adds working as a bozo to his list of goals-along with seeing a certain girl again-for what he hopes will be "the greatest summer of his life." But plans go awry when a rival beats him to the romance punch, his best friend is struck with a life-threatening illness, and Chad has run-ins not only with the police but also with the bozo himself, a troubled man who sublets a room in Chad's house. As Chad surmounts each challenge, he shakes off the shadow of his deadbeat absent father and learns the difference between "a laugh that can cut you up worse than a knife" and laughter that heals. Lubar ably charts a watershed summer between boyhood and manhood; the boardwalk bozo serves as a deft metaphor for the power and control for which adolescents hunger. Ages 12-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Dunk grips readers from the very first sentence and doesn't let go until the last. The summer crowd hasn't quite arrived on the boardwalk in a Jersey shore town when Chad becomes entranced by the Bozo-the clown in the dunk tank-whose voice and comments are as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. It occurs to him that if he can become a Bozo, then he can take out his anger on people who have made him miserable, such as his deadbeat dad and his teachers. As he learns the craft, he gains new respect for clever Bozos who quickly choose a "mark" from people passing on the boardwalk, hook them with a wisecrack that's prickly enough to make them want to dunk him, and then keep the sarcasm going. Although Chad thinks he'll instantly ace the technique, he grudgingly realizes that it is an art. When his best friend becomes seriously ill, he learns that the softer side of humor is as vitally important as the more vengeful barbs. Plot clearly delineates not only self-understanding, but also peer pressure, family conflict, and first romance through the mechanism of Chad's summer adventures. The story line shows the teen's quandary, but does not become stereotypical; few kids want a summer job as a boardwalk Bozo to resolve their conflicts. The author creates immediacy through the protagonist's very typical problems; he wants to find romance, to thwart a troublemaker, and to help his friend. Similar to heroes in stories by Chris Crutcher, Chad learns valuable life lessons in a thoroughly enjoyable and convincing way.-Susan Cooley, Tower Hill School, Wilmington, DE
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.