Hartinger publishes latest 'Geography Club' sequel

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 4, 2013 

Reading is different for everyone, and my family proves the point. I read around a hundred books annually, in all kinds of genres.

My daughter outdoes me. Beginning with Tolkien's "The Hobbit," which she read before entering first grade, she continues to be a voracious reader all these years later. My husband rarely picks up a book, but makes a point of thoroughly reading the front section of the daily newspaper and also keeps up on several magazines.

And then there's my teen-age son.

It isn't that he doesn't have good reading skills, but for him, reading is a duty. The idea of reading as a pleasurable pastime simply doesn't occur to him.

I'm trying to change that mindset this summer. First, I enlisted my daughter to come up with some titles that would be to his liking. Having devoured virtually everything in the local library, and knowing her brother's tastes, she came up with a list of books that are loaded with action or humor.

Then I made a deal with my son: For every book he reads from now through August, I will learn a new video game under his tutelage. The other morning, he finished his first book of the summer - so that afternoon I found myself manipulating a frowning, bearded avatar through the zombie-choked streets of a dystopian city.

Do what you can to encourage your kids to read for pleasure. Reading can provide lifelong entertainment, solace and wisdom.

And now, at last, to my book review. A decade ago, Seattle author Brent Hartinger wrote a landmark young adult novel called "Geography Club." It featured Russel Middlebrook, a teen who forms a secret gay support group at school, giving it a name so boring that no straight person would want to join.

Hartinger created characters who were vulnerable, irreverent and likable, and the book deservedly became a hit. It spawned a series that has featured Russel and his friends as they've come out of the closet and navigated school, romance and society at large.

"The Elephant of Surprise" is fourth in the series. Unfortunately, this book seems to work harder than the rest, while feeling less authentic in actually engaging readers.

While Russel has always confided in the reader, the opening chapter of "The Elephant of Surprise" is overly self-conscious.

Then in chapter two, Hartinger uses the device of instant messaging for story exposition. Not a bad idea - but in this case, not terribly successful in execution.

The book, in addition to a significant amount of relationship angst, includes some pretty typical ill-advised teen stunts, and then one whopper of a plot twist that seems disproportionate to the rest of the story.

"The Elephant of Surprise" also has a strand about an anti-consumerist movement - "freeganism." There's interesting stuff here, but it is exploited rather than explored.

I'm sorry I'm not keen on this latest book, but it doesn't quench my appreciation for the earlier books in the series. "Geography Club," particularly, is a standout.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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