Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Loony Experiment

The Looney Experiment
Luke Reynolds
Blink/Zondervan, 2015  178 pgs
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Seventh grade life is not easy for Atticus. He has no confidence and is often targeted by the class bully, Danny. He can't speak in class and often spends hours at a time lost in his imagination. Danny's father is his baseball coach and he finds practices and games torture. He only participates in order to impress his father, who ends up leaving the family, resulting in further negative feelings of inadequacy. Enter long term substitute teacher Mr. Looney. Mr. Looney, a veteran teacher, has unorthodox methods of teaching unlike any teacher Atticus has come in contact with. He has the class tribal dancing and doing all kinds of creative activities, but no homework. Mr. Looney offers Atticus his signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, featuring his namesake, and he comes early to class to read and hang-out with his new mentor, finally finding peace and safety in school. Bully, Danny, is not happy with the loss of control in the classroom. His mother, the school board president, calls Mr. Looney to a conference with the principal. During the meeting Danny severely beats-up Atticus and destroys the precious copy of the famous book. All seems lost as Mr. Looney is put on probation and faces criminal charges for trumped up abuse as reported by Danny. Atticus must channel lawyer Atticus Finch and find his confidence somewhere deep inside himself to speak in front of the school board and be true to his conscious.

First time author and seventh grade teacher, Luke Reynolds, gives us a sneak-peek into the hopes, fears, and priorities of a struggling twelve-year-old. We see the process of Atticus gaining confidence and finding his place in the world through the help of a trusted teacher. We also see the impact a teacher can make in a young person's life and how important it is for us adults to pay attention to our charges and their needs. Reynolds is not afraid to tackle difficult issues such as bullying, divorce. isolation, and making the right decision, even if it scares you. Danny is the quintessential bully. Reynolds does not shirk away from the hatred, misery and abuse inflicted by Danny, but does offer the reader insight into his motivations (abusive father). This book is currently very timely as this summer's release of Go Set a Watchman has the the world re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee is all over the news and to have a signed copy of her classic as the focal point of this story makes the book relevant and current. It is interesting that at the beginning of the book much happens within Atticus' imagination and as the book progresses and he slowly gains confidence Atticus comes out of his head and into reality. The school board scene when Mr. Looney is on trial could have been flashier, but it was realistic and propelled Atticus out of his comfort zone to do the right thing in a believable fashion. All does not end perfectly, but positively and Atticus gets the girl, which is a nice bonus. A short book that certainly packs a wallop, it would be a great choice for a classroom setting and will be enjoyed by most readers.

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