Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli (published in January 2013) is a modern day fable in which the maxim “Kids live in their own little worlds” comes to life.  Bicycles become wild mustangs or horses in the plains to be captured by boys who are not just boys but cowboys with rope.  Girls hate boys and boys hate girls — taunting each other with harmless names and petty pranks.  In many ways, they relate to the opposite sex no differently than they relate to their own, though rather than offer advice or imparting skills and knowledge to their gender enemies, they stand apart from them and deride them as inferior.  Spinelli’s tale takes a few chapters to develop into a full blown world, but once it does, look out.  Readers will be wandering around and playing games.

There are four basic rules in this world of Hokey Pokey:  never leave a puddle unstomped; never go to sleep until the last possible minute; never kiss a girl; and never go near the Forbidden Hut.  With a male protagonist, Jack, Spinelli obviously is gearing the book more toward male readers, but female readers who can remember their childhoods and the games they played, may still find something to hold their attention here.  Jack is flanked by his amigos, Dusty and LaJo, and his enemy, Jubilee, has just stolen his mustang — Scramjet — the most famous bike in all of the land.  Jack is pissed, he’s vengeful, he’s sad, but more than anything, he’s noticed that something has changed since he woke up in the morning.

“The world looked exactly the same as always — the places, the kids — but this time there was a slippery sense, like an uncatchable moth, that he himself was no longer part of the picture, was on the outside looking in, that the world he was seeing was no longer his.  For a scary instant he thought his end of the seesaw was going to keep on rising and catapult him clear out of Hokey Pokey.”  (page 76 ARC)

Spinelli weaves a tale of growing up and leaving childhood behind and that sense of things being the same as they always were, but different somehow.  Highly inventive and at times surreal, Spinelli’s world can be a bit topsy turvy at first, but readers will soon wonder what is wrong with Jack and where he’s going if he is leaving Hokey Pokey when there is no train.  In a world absent of adults, kids run amok, taunt each other and take out their traumatic frustrations on one another in the form of games and the dangerous click, click, click of the exploder, which renders other kids “dead.”  In a land of make-believe and where anything is possible, Jack and his friends are free to think and feel how they wish without consequence.  But even in this world, there are boundaries to how others are treated.

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli, which is my first experience with this author, is an adventure for young and old.  However, the age range is 10 and up, and readers on the younger end of that range may find the themes and some language challenging, especially as Spinelli often mashes words together or creates his own as part of Hokey Pokey’s world.

About the Author:

Jerry Spinelli is an American author of children’s novels on adolescence and early adulthood. He is best known for the novels Maniac Magee, for which he won the Newbury Medal, and Wringer.  After graduating from Gettysburg College with an English degree, Spinelli worked full time as a magazine editor.  Spinelli was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Phoenixville, PA.

This is my 88th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.