cover image Johnny Chesthair

Johnny Chesthair

Chris Lynch. HarperCollins Publishers, $4.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-440655-0

In this series launch of The He-Man Women Haters Club, the ever-prolific Lynch (Political Timber; the Blue-Eyed Son trilogy) engagingly addresses questions important to the average adolescent male, namely: what is a ""strong"" man, and what to do about girls? Inspired by ""a couple of right thinkers named Spanky and Alfalfa"" and their antics in an Our Gang installment, narrator Steven decides that the only way to get strong and deal with women-particularly a redheaded Amazon named Monica-is to form a guys-only club, with himself as imperial leader and rule-maker. His friend Jerome, who ""has a hockey player's grit, tamped down into a chess-club body,"" quickly finds two other misfits to fill out the membership: wheelchair-bound tough-guy Wolfgang and the fearsome-looking yet lachrymose Ling-Ling. But although he tries to take charge and be a ""Johnny Chesthair"" like his bullying father and survivalist uncle, Steven soon finds that the club is out of his control. To add insult to injury, he embarrasses himself on TV and the women he sought to terrorize are laughing at him (although astute readers will observe that Monica appears to have a crush on him). Steven's impeachment as club president paves the way for the second installment, Babes in the Woods, narrated by Jerome (due for simultaneous release). Though the tone is light-at least on the surface-and the pace snappy, there is plenty of food for thought here on the subject of male identity and gender relations. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)