cover image The Schernoff Discoveries

The Schernoff Discoveries

Gary Paulsen. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32194-5

Two things make this book stand out from the crowd of school-based comedies. First, there's Paulsen's joyfully unconventional thinking and quirky writing. Second, this book is told in an unusual but effective way, narrated by an unnamed 14-year-old boy about his best friend, Harold Schernoff. The two buddies are plagued with uncool reputations, but it doesn't hamstring Harold. Among many developments, Harold learns to fish (and gets yanked into the river by his would-be catch). Harold skis. Harold joins home economics class ("" `It's simply chemistry,' he said one morning while handing me a delicious apple tart that he'd just finished baking""). Harold kisses a girl, plays golf and works as a not-very-competent pin-setter at the bowling alley (the setting, lightly sketched, is northern Minnesota in the '50s). Harold even foils the football team thugs, dragging his best friend into respectability along the way. As in many of his novels, Paulsen matter-of-factly states the narrator's lousy home situation--indifferent, alcoholic parents--but brushes it off as a minor nuisance, something unfortunate but not central to his life. Instead, he focuses on the funny side of junior high. The humor is luminous in contrast to the faintly but deftly drawn shadows in the background. It's also a welcome boost to those who secretly fear that junior high uncoolness is a permanent state. Ages 10-up. (June)