cover image My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian

My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian

Elizabeth Levy. HarperCollins, $15.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-026602-8

It's Bobby Garrick's last chance to avoid being kicked out of school--his teacher has taken him up on his off-the-cuff suggestion and ordered him to organize a ""laugh-off,"" pitting teachers against kids with comedy routines to decide who's the funniest person in school. With his sharp-tongued father putting him down every step of the way, and his troubled older brother causing the family grief, Bobby clings to the one thing he knows he's good at--making people laugh. Though the climax strains credibility with the sudden reconciliation of Bobby and his father, the premise of this book is entertaining and moving. Bobby is more than just the class clown and his father is more than just a one-note jerk who tells the teacher, ""I know he's smarter than he looks--but then he'd have to be."" Supporting characters also come to life: the rigid principal turns out to have a secret desire to be a stand-up comic, and Bobby's studious best friend, Janeen, turns out to need lessons in being funny. The whole exploration of what's funny and what's not gives an extra dimension to the laugh-off preparations and gives rise to endless jokes, which the author collected from kids (""Why is it so easy to fool vampires? Because they're suckers""). The fine line that divides comedy from bitterness and teasing from harassment is poignantly explored: we laugh in order not to cry. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)