Sounding Off

by Ted Staunton
ISBN: 0889952930

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A Review of: Sounding Off
by O.R. Melling

"This is the funniest book I have ever read!" declared my teen reader. Despite her words, my heart sank at the sight of "zits" in the first sentence. Being an airy fairy lover of lyrical prose, I have never liked graphically-written realistic fiction, especially that aimed at teens and their problems. Still, my daughter's assurance of good fun ahead was bolstered by Staunton's renown as a writer of hilarious humour for children. Would his first work for an older readership match up?
It wasn't long before I was laughing out loud. Our hero is fourteen-year-old Sam Foster of the small Ontario town of Hope Springs. Yes, the local newspaper is called Eternal. We first meet him with a crash helmet jammed accidentally onto his head, chasing an elusive girl who sings country-and-western. Like all lanky young men suffering the hell of awkward self-consciousness, he is adept at the "survival slouch", studied indifference to his surroundings (aided by the ever-present walkman), and interior directives issued from the panic room. Act too cool for this. Though it couldn't be said to his face, he is a charming innocent with his own idiosyncratic take on reality. "Lost" is what he feels when lust and love combine.
Staunton is not only an astute observer of teens (being a father obviously helps), but more importantly he is a sympathetic one. His readers will respond to this, for as all parents and most teachers know, young people are acutely aware of whether or not adults like them.
As well as featuring Sam's various misadventures- that wayward kiss in the dark is a sure-fire sidesplitter; my daughter howled-the novel slouches around the town along with its main character. At first Hope Springs appears deceptively sitcom sweet, but that's a Staunton teaser, before he turns over a few stones. In an unexpected bonus, the book's wry and amusing view of a teenage boy's world branches out into a more complex look at small town life, malicious gossip, power politics, and prejudice. (I was truly concerned for that nice transvestite with the tattoos and pearls.) Must say, though, I found the subplot about the two prominent men with initials for their first names both tedious and extraneous. Far more interesting and compelling are the storylines dealing with Sam and his friends and family. His Dad's midlife crisis is a particular hoot.
A final point: There can be no doubt that Sounding Off is directed at the elusive "boy reader", what with its manly title, no frills prose, in-your-face tone, and strong cover image in red, white and black. The issue of gender writing is a telling one. While you are unlikely to find a boy reading Jaqueline Wilson, my daughter and her pals are eagerly awaiting another Ted Staunton for teens.

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