Happy Kid Review

Happy Kid
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Gail Gauthier has perfectly captured the academic, mental and emotional state of that no-man's land we call Junior High in her new book, Happy Kid! I love this book; I am going to nominate it for the Texas Lonestar List.
Kyle is an average kid just trying to survive at Bert P. Trotts "the gateway to Hell" Middle School. During the previous year, Kyle was accused of bringing a weapon on the bus as a result of his tech ed. school project. His innocence was established but the fallout over the incident carries over into the new school year.
In an effort to help him improve his attitude and get him off on the right foot, his mother purchases a self-help book for him, Happy Kid: a Young Person's Guide to Satisfying Relationships and a Happy Meaning-filled Life!
Kyle is mortified but accepts his mom's offer to pay him a dollar for every chapter he reads. Kyle finds that the book mysteriously keeps opening to the same chapter and only changes once that chapter's issue has been dealt with in his life. How does the book seem to always know what help he needs?
Gauthier has perfectly recreated the environment of high-stakes state student assessment testing. Here they are called (wonderfully) the SSASies. I chuckled as teachers pass out SSASie review sheets, in every class, on the first day of school. As one student says, "The schools are being tested but we are taking the tests?"
She has also accurately captured the strange social world and tension that develops between "A" students (honors/advanced), the regular kids, and the small, scary underclass of soon-to-be-criminals. Finding the right-place-to-sit at lunch the first day of school IS a real crisis, and having the campus bully think you are one of his posse is serious.
Like many junior high faculties, the teachers at Trotts are slightly odd. (I have always wondered...do the teachers get that way by teaching middle school-ers or are they already slightly nutty and therefore drawn to junior high?) He has a great family complete with an obnoxious older sister. His mom is anxious for him to have a good year. His dad is slightly bewildered and trying to understand the two teenagers under his roof.
As I read Happy Kid!, I was rooting for Kyle all the way. He is struggling to succeed in his advanced courses where he thinks he has been placed by clerical error. He is also looking for some friends and time for any fun outside of school. Ultimately, Kyle must face a huge ethical dilemma, and he wants to do the right thing but he risks losing everything he has gained.
There are great truths in the pages of this story. It will make you laugh. Just read it.

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