The border year for me was 6th grade. The idea of adulthood was anathema, but it was coming. Ten going on eleven, I veered back and forth, sometimes playing longstanding fantasy games with my younger sister and other times meanly and harshly dismissing them and her. One day I was happily playing with dolls and the next I couldn’t imagine ever doing so again and was out chasing and being chased by boys. Whether I liked it or not I was growing up.
It is this complicated time in life that Jerry Spinelli has captured brilliantly in his forthcoming Hokey Pokey. This isn’t the Spinelli of Stargirl or Wringer; it harkens back to the storytelling style, lush language, and powerful voices of Maniac Magee and Milkweed. That said, Hokey Pokey is its own original and unique thing, one wild and crazy book and I loved it.
It is a fable set in an alternate place, somewhere called Hokey Pokey, a world of children. Toddlers, little ones on trikes, slightly older ones chasing around on bikes, and some of those really big kids that all the others look up to inhabit this land. One of these is Jack and Hokey Pokey is both his story and that of everykid. It is a work of nostalgia, but one as much for a young person just leaving childhood as it is for Spinelli or any other adult reader. That is, while he has set the tale in a childhood that is sprinkled with elements from his own 1950s youth it is so piercingly authentic that I am certain that it will resonate with many looking back regardless of when they were a child.
Written in the breathless NOW of the present tense, full of richly crafted prose with a poetic sensibility, the book pushes the reader relentlessly along. Jack is confused. Things are changing for him and he doesn’t like it. He tries various tactics from ignoring what is happening to him to being mean to those around him to vainly grabbing at things as they slip away. He tries to stop it in every way he can, but there are tinges of what might be good about this movement to somewhere else and by the end of the book Jack, as everykid and everyadult will and does, embraces it. I see this as a book that will be just perfect for a certain sort of child-becoming-a-teen who is as confused and bothered as I was, as Jack is in this book. Someone who absolutely doesn’t want to grow-up, but is.
I can’t wait to see what those kids grappling with the border time will think of this original and remarkable book.