'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 1 August 2011

Review: Whipper Snapper

Gus Delfino is basketball. No, not an actual basketball... his whole world is basketball. He lives, loves and breathes it, with ball-bouncing gusto.

His mates do, too. They all play for the Pennsbury High Panthers, and the team is poised for the finals - that is until Gus's nemesis, Corey Barnes steals his bike and leaves it in the middle of the road, just in time for a bus to careen right into it... a horrible accident.

Particularly horrible, because, along with an old man named George, Gus is inside the bus when it happens.

And most particularly horrible because when Gus wakes up in his  post-accident hospital bed, he is no longer himself. He is an old man. He is George.

The premise behind this story may not be new but Felice Arena has taken this classic body-swapping premise to slam-dunking heights with this cleverly-penned, multi-faceted story that combines boyish clamor with adult themes of life, death, love and memories.

Swapping bodies with George Cavendish, an ex-sports teacher from Pennsbury High is not only funny, Arena has managed to make it decidely freaky and realistic. From the elderly physical ailments through to the snuggle-factors with George's elderly wife and the heartbreaking confusion and pain experienced by Gus's parents, who wait forlornly by the unconscious body of their 'real' son... this is deeply-plotted and beautifully-threaded writing.

In fact, things get pretty mindbending at times... where the reader is truly uncertain what will happen to Gus (let alone George) and the empathy that arises as a result is palpable.

But exploring themes of death and loss and life are not heavy in Whipper Snapper. Whilst the story is certainly enriched by these elements, it's the play-by-play action, the teenage relationships (including a little bit of sugar with the lovely Annie Goodall) and the bullying and subsequent exploration and understanding that will reel kids in.

As will the sporting action.

Also endemic to his Specky Magee footy books, Arena's freakishly good action-packed sporting descriptions are so perfectly fluid, the sweaty, thundering scenes seem to unfold behind your eyelids as you read. Even for someone pretty much far removed from basketball (or any other sport, for that matter), I could feel my heart racing during game-playing scenes. I could feel the thrill of the bounce, the side-stepping, the shoot, the score. Really good stuff.

Despite having the full package when it comes to great junior fiction, what I really love about this book is that it's not predictable. Several times I guessed what might happen, and it didn't. I love it when that (so rarely) happens... those unexpected surprises were enthralling.

Thanks, Mr Arena, for writing yet another quality read for our boys (and girls). It's jab-steppingly good.

Title: Whipper Snapper
: Felice Arena
Puffin, $14.95 RRP
Publication Date:
1 August 2011
For ages:
Junior Fiction