Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Comic-Novel Hybrid
The eponymous protagonist, Charlie Joe Jackson, doesn’t hate reading—he abhors it. He avoids it whenever possible, and he’s come up with so many excuses to get out of reading over the years that he practically wrote the book on it.
Pun completely intended.
When Charlie Joe Jackson reaches middle school, his entire system falls apart. The sucker friend he’s convinced to do his reading for him backs out of the deal shortly before the huge make-or-break-your-grade project is assigned. When his teacher and parents find out about his anti-reading methods, he knows he’ll have to act fast if he wants to maintain his perfect no-reading record and avoid the worst fate of all: summer school.
Oh my dear, sweet lord. This is easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. With the unconventional typeset and doodles in the margins, it’s obviously riding the coattails of the Wimpy Kid books, but this book surpasses all of them in style, literary merit, and humor.
The characters are well-crafted, particularly Charlie. I simultaneously wanted to be his friend (the student in me) and scream with frustration (the teacher in me) as he struggled to avoid books however possible. Even the side characters—the bully, the love interest, the friends—were realistic and round instead of cliche paper figures. They reminded me of my students, which shows how well Greenwell knows his audience.
The conflicts, too, are realistic. The things Charlies does to get out of reading might, to the adult who’s forgotten about early teenage-hood, seem absurd. Any teacher or anyone who remembers being twelve or thirteen, though, will definitely get it. Actually, no. It’s still absurd, regardless of age, but it’s recognizable. Even if your “thing to be avoided at all costs” wasn’t reading, we all had something at that age we went to crazy lengths to get out of (pep rallies *shudder*).
What also makes this book great are the between-chapter tips for not reading. They come in the form of funny little lists that, despite the way the main character takes them seriously, are full of bad advice. Like, actual bad advice. They are written with an authentic middle school voice, though, and I can definitely hear my students trying to argue their validity.
The only problem with this book is predictable ending. I feel like even my students could see it coming from a mile away. It was a definite let down given the strengths of the rest of the book.
But then I remind myself the rest of the book was amazing, funny, and as close to perfect as middle-grade novel can be.
If only people would read it.
If the reluctant reader in your life is looking for something funny, this hits the spot.
- Kids who hate reading
- Kids who like realistic fiction
- Middle schoolers, both in age and at heart
- Bullying: minor bullying between characters
- Deceit: characters actively trick others to get away with doing as little as possible
- Lying: characters lie frequently
- Change vs. Tradition
- Growing Up
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
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