Catch Young Readers in Crime Scene Procastinator
- Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Author: Josh Berk
In his 2010 debut, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Josh Berk demonstrated a proclivity for speaking the rare language of Teenage Boy, as adept at cranking out one-liners as he was at making wise observations about the adolescent male psyche. It was - gasp - a book that teenage boys might actually read.
Berk's follow-up, Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator, is full of the same sort of guy-friendly subject matter as Berk's debut. It's a coming-of-age tale whose tenderness provides a satisfying underbelly to the wise-cracking slacker ethos of the soul-searching titular protagonist. Procrastinator follows appropriately-named Guy Langman, high school junior, through his adventures as part of the high school Forensics club. Guy joins the club to hang with his best friend Anoop and get closer to the girl of his dreams, Raquel Flores.
Guy's first-person narrative is littered with laugh-out-loud zingers and musings on life.
He mixes the pithy and the profound, as Guy confesses his psychiatrist, "says I use humor as a way to hide my feelings." The novel opens with Guys stating, "It's no coincidence that I got interested in forensics right around the time they put my dad in the ground." This sort of blunt self-awareness defines Berk's narration and endears Guy to the reader. It also doesn't hurt that he's seriously funny, like when he leans over to Anoop during the first Forensic club meeting and asks, "Dude, there are four ensics? What's an ensic, anyway? It sounds like something from health class."
After Guy joins the Forensics club, the plot follows the structure of a cleverly paced, if not that complicated, mystery. Guy's pursuit of buried family secrets sends him digging, figuratively and literally, into mysteries that test more than his newfound knowledge of fingerprinting and the like. The case-cracking leads him to some self-discovery as he undergoes a classic coming-of-age journey by novel's end.
There's just enough forensics knowledge here to entice teens, but it's obvious what will likely draw teens in is Guy's singular voice. The mystery's just the side dish; Guy's character is the main course. In that respect, Berk's narrative voice is unmatched. It's so authentic, it's almost like he's plugged directly into the inner monologue of a high school boy. He's always entertaining, which makes for some colorful moments, hilarious observations about teachers and peers. But Guy's narrative voice also tends toward the hormonal, and often crude. It's real, but sometimes slides over the line into too-much-information territory.
With its slang-heavy narrator, some might accuse Procrastinator of being less than literature, and therefore not worthy of a teen's time. However, if we're willing to get real and admit that most teenage boys aren't planning on picking up a copy of Catcher in the Rye anytime soon, this book deserves as much attention as the next. While every first-person narrative since Salinger will feel something of a pastiche, Berk's Guy voice is winning and truly engaging.
That's not to say Procrastinator falls into the "for-reluctant-readers" only category. Berk takes great pains with his prose, mixing the sublime with the ridiculous in such a delightful way that the emotion sneaks up, unbidden. Just as we're ready to give up on Guy and his self-centered, snarky comments, Berk sneaks in another lovely phrase or disarming character detail that makes us forget about Guy's flaws. It's one more way this book feels like a real teenager's life: strengths and weaknesses simultaneously visible for the world to see. That might be the highest praise due Berk's novel.
*This Review First Published 3/27/2012
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