Pat the Seat Next to You, Christopher Paul Curtis and Jack Gantos – Here’s Crystal Allen!

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 2, 2011

Want my number-one pick for the sleeper tween novel of 2011? How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by debut novelist Crystal Allen deserves a Bubba-sized readership. It’s fresh, extremely funny, and compulsively readable, with a huge heart and a comically mischievous spirit.
Remember the first time you read The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, and laughed out loud at the scene where Byron gets his lips stuck to the side-view car mirror kissing his reflection on a cold day? Or the first time you met Joey Pigza and were swept pell-mell into that Gantos narrative rush? That’s how I felt sinking in to Lamar’s Bad Prank —the delight of discovering a bright new voice with killer storytelling ability and a particularly buoyant sensibility.
I loved getting to know Lamar, the lively thirteen-year-old narrator of this book. Lamar is a great bowler, but—despite his big talk—has no game when it comes to girls. He’s also an asthma-inhaler-carrying prankster, and tends to act before he thinks. He’s got a basketball-superstar older brother whose trophies fill the family mantelpiece and a dad who loves both boys but doesn’t seem to see bowling as the equal of basketball. Lamar’s got a best friend, Sergio, with whom he trades lightning-quick repartee and secrets. And he’s got a new love interest who happens to be an old acquaintance; she knows all too well Lamar’s history as a brash boy who’s played one too many jokes on an unsuspecting girl and goes for the laugh when sometimes he shouldn’t.
When Lamar learns that his bowling idol, the great Bubba Sanders, will be coming to visit the local lanes, he is bursting with enthusiasm and grand dreams of impressing Bubba with his mad bowling skillz.
But all of these relationships and dreams collide and falter when Lamar, in need of cash, gets roped into some ill-advised bowling hustling by a local ne’er-do-well kid. One bad decision leads to another, and soon Lamar is in over his head. Things fall apart in a big way, part funny, part awful and inexorable, and Lamar ends up needing to clean up his act and make amends to, well, not only everyone in his immediate circle, but pretty much the entire town.
I love this book. The characters are memorable and real. Great lines abound. It’s wonderfully written, with enormous kid appeal.  It celebrates both community and individuality (reminding me of Because of Winn-Dixie in this regard). It’s bursting with personality and strikes a great balance between lauding the funny, charismatic qualities of Lamar’s brashness while chastening those aspects that aren’t as wonderful (some insensitivity to others, the impulsiveness that gets him in trouble). I had one small quibble with an aspect of his penance that seemed narratively tidy — but the book is such a feel-good story and I was rooting so hard for Lamar, I really didn’t care.
The Junior Library Guild selected How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, but other than that kudo, I don’t think this novel has come near to reaching its potential audience. I hope you’ll all run out and read it immediately and recommend it to other readers. There’s a new author in town, and she’s written one heck of a great book. Give to fans of the authors mentioned here (Christopher Paul Curtis, Jack Gantos, and Kate DiCamillo), as well as Lisa Yee and Neal Shusterman.

9 thoughts on “Pat the Seat Next to You, Christopher Paul Curtis and Jack Gantos – Here’s Crystal Allen!

  1. Susan Marston from JLG

    I have such affection for this book and this character. It’s one of those books I want to hug when I talk about it. It DEFINITELY deserves wide attention. I’m glad you brought it up! ( and thanks for the mention of JLG!)

  2. Lupe Ruiz-Flores

    I chuckled throughout the book. I am thrilled to see my friend, Crystal Allen’s book, getting such rave reviews. Well deserved, I might add. I love the Lamar character. I met Crystal a while back in Chautauqua, New York, where we both attended the Highlights Foundation writers’ workshop.

  3. Janet Lawler

    Thanks to Elizabeth for adding an item to my Christmas shopping list. After reading this review, I will have a hard time resisting reading it before gifting, although I shall resist. Then again, maybe I’ll buy two!

  4. Anne D

    You are so right, Elizabeth! The jive-talking Lamar is a character to be remembered in a story that doesn’t let you down. He’s funny, he’s real, he’s got family issues that drive his actions & decisions but also pave the path to resolution. I hope your review gets the book more readers: it deserves the love!


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