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Review: Wise Young Fool
Ritchie is about to tell you about his senior year. And how he and his best friend, Elliot Hella, started a band.
And he’s going to tell you about the hottest girl in school, Ravenna Woods.
And maybe a bit about his Mom, and his Mom’s girlfriend, Looper.
But not Beth. At least, not yet.
It’s a boy, and a guitar, and music, and a band, and best friends.
And it’s about surviving those ninety days — and so, yes, Ritchie will let you know, eventually, why he’s in there. What happened.
But first, he’s going to tell you about the band. Every band needs a name, right? How does Sin Sistermouth sound?
OK, then. How about Wise Young Fool?
The Good: Loved, loved, loved Ritchie. The book begins at Progressive Progress, where Ritchie is serving his ninety days: “The air would taste like angst, except there is no air. The silence would sound like fear and pain, except there is no silence.” And then Ritchie is telling us about the day before senior year, when he and Elliot Hella went to buy Ritchie’s electric guitar, and, as Ritchie explains, “a band is dying to be born.”
And how, I wonder, did this great kid get from here to there, from point A to point locked up?
Ritchie is funny and smart. I’m sure his teachers have said, endlessly, that he doesn’t work up to his potential. Here, early on, Ritchie describing Elliot’s current, elderly stepfather: “Lawrence shrugs and nods, practically a living memory, a dream of tweed suits and chalkboards and differential equations, like Russell Crowe in that movie where he’s not a gladiator.” How can you not love Ritchie?
Sometimes, I forgot where Ritchie was. The ninety days. Instead, I got swept into Ritchie’s year of forming a band and deciding on a name (and oh, the endless band name debates!) I got pulled into the drama of Ritchie wanting one girl while hooking up with another and not quite knowing what to do next, except to ignore phone calls. (Let me add: while Ritchie is in love (or is it lust?) with one girl, and ends up sleeping with another because, well, she’s there, and this is always told from Ritchie’s point of view, both Ravenna and Lacy Duplais are fully formed characters, with their own wants and needs and story arcs that aren’t about Ritchie.) And I wondered about Beth, Ritchie’s older sister.
Beth is dead: and Beth’s death, and the aftermath, and what happened before are things that Ritchie reveals gradually. Let’s just say, his father took off and started a new family. And now his mother is with Looper. And Ritchie hates to drive. One of the things I loved about Wise Young Fool is how little, really, I ended up knowing about Beth, or Ritchie’s mom or dad. By the end, I knew more about Looper, his mom’s girlfriend, than any of Ritchie’s other family members. Why? Because, of course, Beth died. And it’s easier for Ritchie to talk with Looper, because she is part of his after-Beth life. Which reminds me of another thing I liked about Wise Young Fool: how little the adults mattered in the story, yet, still, were present and there. This is always Ritchie’s story, a story of a teenager learning to deal with a tremendous loss and still enjoying life, and friends, and music. Always, the music.
A quick note about the names: in addition to the dual-story going on (Ritchie serving his time, and Ritchie’s senior year that led up to his serving time) this is also structured as a “found manuscript” : “Three years ago, a very curious manuscript was turned in to our offices. . . . we have still found no trace of the town, friends, or high school Ritchie refers to below.” While it’s an interesting thing to bring into a book discussion, it also tells the reader to look at Ritchie’s humor and wordplay in the names he gives his friends, family and town. Even Ritchie’s own name, “Ritchie Sudden” (rich sudden? suddenly rich?), his friend El Hella; a teacher is called Miss Menepausse; his home town is Sackville, just to point out a few.
Because even though I haven’t been in a band, and have no musical talent whatsoever, yet got what music meant to Ritchie, and what that band meant to him. Because Ritchie was so awesome. Because Ravenna and Lacy have full stories, even though this is always Ritchie’s own. Because Looper and his Mom is an awesome couple. Wise Young Fool is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is email@example.com.
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