The Chicken Doesn't Skate

by Gordon Korman,
192 pages,
ISBN: 0590853007

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Children`s Books
by Janet McNaughton

Comic novels that don't quite work aren't much fun to read. One of Gordon Korman's most recent books, Why Did the Underwear Cross the Road?, was like that. A group of kids competed in a good deed contest. Their efforts to do good got worse and worse, until, at the last moment, a reversal of fortune made everything okay-comic novelist on automatic pilot.

So I didn't come to The Chicken Doesn't Skate with great expectations. Korman surprised me, though. The Chicken Doesn't Skate is no turkey. St. Martin's is a small town in Minnesota where life, for most of the boys in junior high, centres on hockey. But Milo Neal grew up in California, the son of a famous scientist. After his parents' divorce, Milo and his mom return to St. Martin's, his parents' home town. Milo's science fair project, "The Complete Life Cycle of a Link in the Food Chain", attracts attention he was not expecting. The whole school, it seems, is crazy about the "link", a tiny chick. When she accidentally appears at a hockey game, and the school team finally wins, full-blown chickenmania breaks out. In the excitement, no-one notices the "complete life cycle" aspect of the project. Milo is planning to serve the chicken, cooked, at the science fair.

Chapters are "written" by various characters in the book, each with their own take on the chicken. Kelly Marie is an animal rights activist. Adam Lurie is the captain of the hockey team. Zachary Gustafson is a budding screenplay writer, an anti-hero who hopes to exploit Milo's famous father for Hollywood connections. His blood-and-gore screenplays, interspersed with the plot, are bad enough to be funny. The action centres on Milo, but he does not contribute to the narrative until chapter five. Then, we discover that this boy genius is really just a lonely kid, confused about all the fuss and hoping to attract his distant father's attention by winning the science fair.

The Chicken Doesn't Skate has what many comic novels lack: character development. The jock Adam softens under the influence of the chicken, Milo adjusts, and Zachary moves from unfeeling exploiter to a genuine friend. Even the chicken grows. The humour doesn't always hit the jaded, middle-aged reviewer squarely in the funnybone, but I did laugh out loud once or twice, and kids who like Korman will not be disappointed. l

Janet McNaughton's second Y.A. novel, To Dance at the Palais Royale, was released in September. She lives in Saint John's.


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