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Review of the Day: Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Fake Mustache: how Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (And Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election From a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind)
By Tom Angleberger
Illustrated by Jen Wang
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0194-8
Ages 9-12
On shelves April 1, 2012

I said it about Laini Taylor. I said it about Jeff Kinney. Heck, I even said it about J.K. Rowling and now, my friends, I’m saying it about Tom Angleberger: I was into him before it was cool. Seriously, a show of hands, how many of you out there can say that you read his first middle grade novel The Qwikpick Adventure Society written under the pen name of Sam Riddleberger? See, that’s what I though. I did and it was hilarious, thank you very much. The kind of thing you read and love and wish more people knew (plus it involved a poop fountain. I kid you not). Years passed and at long last Tom got his due thanks to a little unassuming title by the name of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. By the time Darth Paper Strikes Back came out, Mr. Angleberger was a certifiable hit with the 9-12 year old set. Fortunately for all of us he hasn’t rested on his laurels quite yet. He’s still willing to stretch a little and get seriously wacky when he wants to. Case in point, Fake Mustache. Just your average everyday twelve-year-old-takes-over-the-world title, Tom’s desire for total and complete goofiness finds a home here. I was into Tom before everyone else was, but considering how much fun Fake Mustache is I guess I’m willing to share him a little.

If he hadn’t lent Casper the measly ten bucks then it’s pretty certain that Lenny Flem Jr. wouldn’t have found himself pairing up with famous television star and singer Jodie O’Rodeo to defeat the evil genius Fako Mustacho. You see, Casper wanted to buy a mustache. And not just any mustache, mind you, but the extremely rare (and luxurious) Heidelberg Handlebar #7. A mustache so powerful, in fact, that when Casper puts it on he’s capable of convincing anyone of anything. Now Casper, posing as Fako Mustacho, has set his sights on the U.S. presidency and only Lenny and Jodie are willing and able to defeat him.

To read this book, kid or adult, you need to have somewhere to safely place your disbelief. I recommend storing it in the rafters of your home. Failing that, launch it into the stratosphere because logic is not going to be your friend when you read this. Literal-minded children would do well to perhaps avoid this book. The ideal reader would be one who reads for pleasure and who enjoys a tale that knows how to have a bit of fun with its internal logic. Once that’s taken care of you’ll be able to really get into Angleberger’s wordplay. He throws in just a ton of fun details that are worth repeating. Things like the fact that the state legislature tends to meet in the local Chinese buffet restaurant because “They used to meet in our fancy gold-domed capitol building, but they kept trashing the bathrooms and got kicked out.” Or take the old man who uses a form of swearing worthy of Yosemite Sam himself: “Leave those hats alone, you FarDobbled Candy-Bar-Selling Punkler!” Silliness abounds.

There are books out there where siblings or parents turn out to be untrustworthy, and they do a good job of striking fear in the hearts of their little readers. Personally, though, I find the books where the villain is the hero’s best friend to be a lot more interesting. After all, isn’t that something that actually happens to a lot of kids around the age of twelve? One day your best friend is the person you’ve always known. The next they seem like some kind of supervillain, intent on ruining your life. Angleberger sort of takes this idea to its logical extreme, but he’s not harping on the metaphor like I am. After all, this book is a comedy at its core.

One of the shockers of the book is that a little more than halfway through the point of view changes. One minute you’re happily following hapless Lenny and the next you’re in the head of Jodie O’Rodeo herself. One of Mr. Angleberger’s finer talents is writing books that are just as popular amongst girls as they are boys. I credit his ability to create female characters that are more than just talking creatures with long eyelashes. For example, in this book Jodie may at first appear to be no more than a combination of Taylor Swift and iCarly but in fact she probably has more in common with Annie Oakley than anyone else. The fact that we bust into her head at the 5/8ths mark suggests to me that Angleberger is being a sneaky pete. I think we’ve all encountered those boy readers who refuse to pick up a book if they see it stars a girl. Well imagine their faces when they’re thoroughly enmeshed in Angleberger’s story only to hit the old switcheroo at Chapter 37. With any luck they’ll be too interested in the story to care all that much, and in the process they’ll find themselves reading the thoughts and impressions of a gal willing to pull a rescue mission at the drop of a hat. Awesome.

The book uses a plethora of contemporary words, terms, and phrases that threaten its longevity. On the one hand, I really appreciated that Casper was capable of making use of the employees of Burger King and not some generic fast food enterprise that doesn’t actually exist. On the other hand, I worry that some of the more recent phrases in the book will date it in a couple years. I say that, but there were some jokes in this book that I wouldn’t remove for all the fake mustaches in the world. For example, at one point Casper appropriates the term “Rock the Vote” in such a hilarious manner that even if the folks of the future don’t get it it’s nice that we can now. Ditto the sentence, “We’re too big to fail”, as spoken by the villain asking for a government handout.

Not all books read aloud particularly well. This one would. As I read it to myself I kept resisting the urge to try out passages on my tongue (though considering that I read most of it on the New York public subway system, I doubt I would have stood out all that much). It’s the rare title that’s funny to kids and adults and reads just as well in the head of a ten-year-old as it does on the lips of a fifth grade teacher. I think he’s got enough books out by this point that you can label this title “classic Angleberger” through and through. Definitely a book for the discerning first-class man-about-town slash girl-about town slash boy-about-town slash woman-about-town. Which is to say, fun for the whole family. Seriously.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “You may remember seeing me on TV when Jodie O’Rodeo saved the world.”

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Educating Alice

Misc: Quick! Act now and win yourself a galley of this book (and maybe there’s a bumper sticker in it for you as well).

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Linda Urban says

    Yay! I’ve been waiting for this one!

  2. Marcie Atkins says

    *waving hand* I read Qwikpick Adventure Society when it first came out. And I loved it! I’ve been following his books ever since. I can’t wait to read this latest!

  3. Karen Gray Ruelle says

    Well, since there’s no sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday in our future, and since you recommend this book for those who liked Smekday (or the other way round–but you know what I mean), I definitely plan to read this! And who knows, maybe I’ll read it out loud on the subway, just for kicks!

  4. I’m with you and Marcie. I read Qwikpick Adventure Society when it first came out and I seem to recall milk coming out of my nose…

    Tom Rocks! More Tom, please.

  5. Colby Sharp says

    I’m a big fan of the early Angleberger book Stonewall Hinkleman:

  6. Must read ASAP!!

    Our library didn’t have Qwikpick — I looked for it after your review way back when — but luckily they have all his Angleberger books.

  7. My hand is raised! We actually found Qwikpik at a lovely children’s bookstore in Atlanta, Little Shop of Stories. We were just wandering around, and my son, then around 11, asked one of the staff to help him find a book. Oh the joys of being hand-sold the perfect book! That makes me wonder where my copy of that book is? My other son would love to read it, now. And, yes, the poop fountain isn’t something you quicky forget.

  8. I saw Tom at ALA, and had fun thanking him in person that his book Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run may have saved my life!

    It was this way: Anita Silvey posted a review of the book on the 150th Anniversary of the 1st Battle of Bull Run. I grabbed it and began reading, because I had tickets to the Reenactment the following Sunday. But the fact was, I wasn’t feeling good. I’d had a low-grade headache for weeks. As the day approached, the weather was forecast to be over 100 degrees. Stonewall Hinkleman, with all the enthusiasm of a middle grade boy, points out how completely ridiculous reenactments are. I tweeted to Tom that his book was convincing me that it would be a better idea to stay home and read the book instead of going to the reenactment.

    So, that was nice. I stayed home and read the book. I did not go out in the 100 degree heat and take a shuttle to the event.

    And the next day I had a stroke! Actually just sitting at the information desk.

    I ended up with no lasting disability and got off very lucky. But I’m glad I was NOT at the reenactment when it happened. The stroke was from a neck injury, which caused a blood clot (which was why I had a headache), which caused the stroke. So I’m sure I had the blood clot the day before, and walking around in the heat would not have been a great activity.

    All that is just to show that Funny Books put things in perspective, and thus Funny Books can Save Lives!

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      My God! I can only assumed that Tom was floored by your story. And what a story that is! I’m kind of going to have to tell it to folks from here on in. “Stonewall Hinkleman saved my life.” We should get you a t-shirt that says that. Wow.

      Thanks for telling us! And I hope you’ve recovered fully. On the information desk at that…. wow.

  9. Eric Carpenter says

    Also loved Qwikpick Adventure Society, though i didn’t read it until right after I was floored by Origami Yoda.
    My question is how do we get Dial to put this back in print? Can they put Tom’s name under the title and release it with the “from the author of Origami Yoga” tag? seems like a no brainer to me.

  10. Yes, you know I didn’t even realize it was the day after the reenactment and how Stonewall Hinkleman may have saved my life until I was writing up my Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

    That’s because they actually didn’t catch the stroke that night. My co-workers did call 911 and I did go to the ER, but by the time the doctor saw me, the room-spinning dizziness had passed. It was a cerebellar stroke, which doesn’t present as dramatically as most others, and a CT scan did not catch it. Once they heard I get migraines & had had a headache for 3 weeks, they said it was a new migraine symptom. I was going to see a doctor a couple days later, and told work I’d come back to work after the appointment. Instead, I woke up feeling really light-headed and with my entire right side tingling. I went to the ER, and this time they did an MRI and found a stroke, and it’s pretty clear that’s also what happened that first night.

    All in all, I was very very lucky! It did take me awhile to figure out the initial stroke was that first night, and by the time I figured that out, I wasn’t thinking much about the reenactment. Then when I was thinking back over the year, I realized that, yep, that was the day before the stroke. Boy, it’s a good thing I didn’t go to that darn reenactment!

    Now maybe I should also add that books weren’t a totally good influence in all this: The stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection (the lining of the artery splitting off), which I got on the flight to ALA Annual. I slept with my neck at a bad angle. I thought the headache that started then was just because I was tired, but I did notice that carrying all the loot really made my shoulder — and my neck — hurt. Now I have a doctor’s note to bring a wheeled cart!

    I’m still not quite 100%, but am doing so much better than what could have happened! And I maintain that it’s highly likely that Stonewall Hinkleman saved my life!

  11. Loved The Qwikpick Adventure Society! The trailer park, the fountain, the whole shebang. Can’t wait to read his latest.

  12. Huge Qwikpick (and Stonewall) fan here. Looking forward to reading this one!

  13. “The book uses a plethora of contemporary words, terms, and phrases that threaten its longevity.”
    That is my #1 pet peeve about books these days. They have a shelf live fo 3 years and then their references don’t make sense!!

  14. I love your book fake mustache I think you sould make another book of fake mustache I just finished it yesterday & I loved it #1fan