Storytime: Glenn Currie’s ‘Surviving Seventh Grade’ nostalgic for adults, funny for tweens
It’s possible that I am an overly enthusiastic audience for the sorts of books that chronicle the misadventures of the middle school set. A couple of years ago, while helping in my daughter’s class, I got more than a few strange looks for gasping with
It’s possible that I am an overly enthusiastic audience for the sorts of books that chronicle the misadventures of the middle school set. A couple of years ago, while helping in my daughter’s class, I got more than a few strange looks for gasping with laughter with one of her classmates over Greg Heffley’s trip to the dentist in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (for the record, he was the one who started it). I rate Malcolm in the Middle among my favorite TV shows, and when I took my daughter and a friend to see Dog Days last summer, I was very nearly disowned for behavior apparently unbefitting a mother of tweens.
On the other hand, I did approach Glenn Currie’s new book, Surviving Seventh Grade, with a healthy bit of skepticism. Self-published books are tricky business for small-time, regional critics such as I, who struggle with deciding where to set the bar for our columns. Since I can select just one book a month, I tend to steer away from them. But Currie is a well-known and well-respected writer around the Concord area and, well, my editor asked me to take a look at his book.
Just a few pages in, I was hooked. Actually, let me back up for just a second and say that, in the world of self publishing, that old adage about not judging a book by its cover is pure folly. Dear self publishers, if you’re going to spend the money to print your own book, I advise you to cough up the extra for a nice, professional-looking cover such as Currie’s, which depicts a stained-glass rendition of a knight, its face replaced by a black-and-white portrait of the author as a youngster. Even without the urging of my editor, this is the sort of book I would have picked up for a closer look.
Currie, a former business consultant who has published three collections of poetry and a previous young adult book, A Boy’s First Diary, sets a properly goofy tone in the book’s introduction, where he alludes to some of the characters in the coming pages.
“None of the characters, except me, are real,” he writes. “If your name happens to be Snobby Donna or Lead Belly or Woodenhead, it is just a coincidence. It’s not about you.”
From there, Currie plunges readers into the world many of us spent decades trying to forget. In 92 little free-verse stories, he takes us through the messy, mixed-up, mostly miserable months of seventh grade, as seen through the eyes of one boy growing up in the 1950s.
School bullies, sex ed, cafeteria food, pimples, first crushes – they’re all here, along with snort-laugh details particular to Currie’s experience: stepping in dog poop on the way to the sock hop, answering “oui” one too many times in French class and being a washed-up singer at the age of 13 thanks to the vocal indignities of puberty.
While not uproariously funny (for which my daughters are grateful), Surviving Seventh Grade is rife with dry little one-liners and pithy observations, as well as the goofy antics you’d expect from a book about a 13-year-old boy. “We had an atom bomb drill today./ When the bell went off/ We all had to get under our desks./ I wonder who thought that up,” he writes. “I don’t like to think about nuclear attacks./ We don’t seem to be well-prepared./ If my desk is the best protection we have,/ We’re in a lot of trouble.”
Speaking of atom bomb drills, what’s also fun about the book is realizing that, for all the change that has taken place in the past 60 years, life in middle school is still very much the same.
Boys are still baffled by girls, geeks still quiver when the cool kids walk by and bodily functions still loom large. Currie’s quest to understand the mysteries of the opposite sex, told through snippets with titles such as “The Sex Lecture,” “French Kissing,” “The Real Sex Lecture,” and “Menstruation,” are a hoot, and just candid enough for the intended audience (although this is the sort of book that will probably appeal as much to nostalgic adults as to middle schoolers.)
By the end, the young Currie has learned what all seventh-graders eventually learn: “That homework is there to make you miserable,/ Gym is there to make sure you stay miserable,/ and French teaches you miserable in another language.”
But don’t worry young readers. One day you’ll look back on all that misery and laugh.