Friday, February 5, 2010

Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher

Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher is a contemporary realistic fiction novel that left me with mixed feelings once I finished reading. There are some aspects I really like about this book, but other parts make me a little skeptical about recommending it to others.
Donuthead is a novel about a boy, Franklin, and his life after a new girl joins his class. Franklin is a 5th grader who worries about absolutely everything and knows the likelihood of any foods, situations, or activities that could impair his health. It is too the point I believed there could be something truly wrong with him, but I am not sure if that was the author's intention. Sarah, the new girl, is the complete opposite. She does not feel the need to avoid conflict or certain foods such as Oreos. In fact, Franklin believes she is lacks proper hygiene judging by the tangled nest of hair and hand warts she has when they first meet. The book revolves around the dynamics of their relationship, and how they both seem to become unlikely friends. Sarah's life has been far from ideal, and Franklin's mother takes a special interest in helping her without it seeming as though it is charity. There are highs and lows in this book, and I found myself wanting to know what would happen next. In the end, both children learn a lot about life and each other.
I really liked the character development in this novel because it was very descriptive. I found myself being annoyed at some of Franklin's odd tendencies and beliefs as well as frustrated with Sarah and her rude and often violent behavior. However, these traits made the characters who they were. Also, their lives were unlike "typical" children. In fact, they were different from most children you would expect to read about in a story. Sarah only lives with her father in a trailer and does not know how to read very well. They are poor and this makes her uncomfortable because she wants to fit in. She wants to be like other kids in regards to dress, hygiene, and behaviors. Her traits seem to reflect the environment she grew up in. Franklin has only ever known his mother because she was artificially inseminated. This was the first book I have ever read where that was the family structure. He fears everything, and it makes me wonder why because his mother only tries to push him to take risks and be a "normal" kid. That was a theme in this book "normal". Who decides what normal is? Another aspect I really liked is that I was not able to predict what would happen until the last second when I would have an "aha!" moment. This book was completely new to me, and that made it exciting. There were various plot twists and turns, so the book did not seem to get too repetitive or focus too long on a certain situation.
Although I really liked this book, there were parts I was unsure about. For example, Sarah seems to solve her conflicts with violence. Although teachers and parents see this negatively in the book, it seems to happen so frequently that it almost becomes appropriate and acceptable. It also made me a little wary when the fights she would get in typically revolved around a bully picking on Franklin, and Sarah would respond with bullying the bully. Two wrongs don't make a right even if it does seem justified. If a student read this, I would make sure to discuss this. However, I don't think this detail would be enough to stop me from suggesting it. Another issue I had also related to bullying. I was a little hesitant when Franklin desribed bullying in schools. It was more realistic I believe, but it could send the wrong message. He has a theory about the playground and refers to the child who gets picked on as the weakest gazelle (himself) and the bully (Marvin) as the lion,
"In fact, it is a strong evolutionary trait to want to avoid people like Marvin Howerton. Take those nature programs on TV--the ones where the lioness goes off to find dinner--and you'll know what I mean. She slinks along, tracking a herd of innocent gazelles who are just minding their own business on the Serengeti Plain. Crouching, she finds a victim: a baby or a weakling or maybe just a highly intelligent yet slightly handicapped gazelle. And off she goes. What do the poor gazelle's lifelong companions do? Do they rally the troops? Do they shout 'Safety in numbers!' and smother that lioness before she can harm one of their own? Of course they don't. They run as fast as they can away from the scene of the crime, not even pausing to nod a fond farewell. After all, they don't want to be dessert. And that's the way it is at school."

I find this to be very negative and, if a child being bullied read this, they may find themselves agreeing and that would be terrible. Of course, it is just a book. It is not that I disagree with this completely. I just think the message being sent is that bullying is wrong and people should help others and not turn their backs. However, later on in the book, Sarah shows this principle and Franklin appreciates it.
Overall, I think this book shows children of not-so-typical families and characteristics. I find this to be my favorite part. The author does not shy away from this, and it is very realistic and possibly issue that students could face today (hence the genre..contemporary realistic fiction).

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