Monday, November 13, 2006

Can You Spell Revolution?

Can You Spell Revolution?, by Matt Beam
http://www.mattbeam.com/
Canadian/YA

In Can You Spell Revolution?, we meet Chris Stren, your average shy awkward grade eight guy who doesn't seem to be fitting in with his old friends anymore. Chris is feeling pretty down and alone until a new kid arrives in class. Clouds McFadden is mysterious and exciting. He invites Chris and three other students to join him in a revolution. They decide that they've been pushed around by teachers and principals for too long, and they want some control in the school. Each member of the group chooses a historical figure and revolutionary moment to emulate - and we get a glimpse of Lafayette in the French Revolution, Gandhi in India, Queen Elizabeth I, and Lenin in the Russian Revolution. There is a lot of historical detail involved, most of which is fairly accessible. Things start out well for the group, and Chris begins to come out of his shell and feel like maybe he belongs. But then, as with many revolutions, power and corruption begin to come into play, threatening not only the friends but the safety of the school.
I think what is really going to kill this book for teens is the cover art, but there are a lot of other problems here too. First, the characters are in grade 8, and the action takes place at an elementary or junior high. But, the story is written for an older audience. At least, I think it is. Many of the concepts are beyond the grade 8 reader. Furthermore, all of the revolutionary information makes the story and the current action get a little bogged down in history. Finally, many of the plot twists just seem a little far fetched and unrealistic. Not that the story is meant to be wholly realistic, but I think that in the latter third of the book the character development falls apart a little in the service of plot. Up to the last third, I think the character development is superb. I also really like the idea of the story. It is exciting.
So, I'm not really sure how I feel about this thing. I think I appreciate it as an adult reader, and I can see its value for younger readers, but I'm not sure that it has young appeal. On the other hand CM gave it a 4 out of 4 rating, so someone loved it. I guess we'll just have to wait to see what the kids say.

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