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Book Review: Donutheart by Sue Stauffacher

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Donutheart’s Sue Stauffacher is the kind of writer who reminds you why you developed a love of reading. In eighth-grader Franklin Delano Donuthead, she has created a character who has you smiling and laughing out loud before the end of the first paragraph. Three pages in I was still laughing. Told in the infectious voice of a middle-grader who has developed a personal code based on his “interpretation of the principles set forth by President Roosevelt in the New Deal," Stauffacher uses humor to tell a deeper story about family, friendship, and dreams.

The big three in Franklin’s code are mental improvement, health promotion, and risk avoidance. Risk avoidance is a major part of his character. Franklin avoids germs and assesses all risk factors before moving forward. He knows to sit close to a teacher to be sure he has good grades and to blend in with others in the lunchroom to avoid being marked as “easy prey.” He thinks a lot about middle school bathrooms; the Pelican View Middle School bathrooms should be “avoided whenever possible.” That is not as easy as it may seem and the mere structure of the boys' bathroom is enough to send Franklin on a rant:

    The problem is, the adolescent body is 75 percent water. And what goes in must come out. Just not in the boys’ bathroom. Note that I did not say 'the boys’ and the girls’ bathrooms.' All you need is a peek through the open door to realize that girls can attend to their business behind closed doors. I am still working through my feelings about Who decided — and then proceeded to tell generations of architects — that boys need less privacy than girls? Who? Girls are always saying they want everything to be equal. Hello? The restroom facilities are not equal.

While Franklin devotes a lot of brain time to the subject of the lovely Glynnis Powell, his actual days are spent with a wide-ranging cast of characters. From morning calls to Gloria Nelots, a chief statistician for the National Safety Department in Washington, D.C. to drive time with his vivacious mom, encounters with her new boyfriend, and lunches spent with his absentminded friend, Bernie – and Sarah.

Sarah. In a perfect world Franklin would practice major risk avoidance and steer clear of Sarah Kervick. But Pelican View Middle School is not the best environment for a young, sensitive, asymmetrical boy like Franklin. Due to “administrative tampering at the highest level,” Franklin sits next to Sarah in five of seven classes. She has imposed a deal on him: She watches over him, keeps him safe from “the criminal element at school,” and he makes sure her grades are good enough for her to participate in the Greater Pelican View Amateur Figure Skating Association. For all her faults and weird ways, Sarah can skate. And for whatever reasons, Franklin’s mother and Gloria Nelots, his Washington D.C. friend, have invested a lot of time, care, and money into seeing that Sarah meets her dreams.

But life is not all laughs and the world is not always safe. Beneath the humor there’s a growing sense of things not being right, of friends coming apart at the seams. Franklin’s intense self-focus gravitates outward. Sarah has stopped attending school. She had warned him that she might disappear. Her hidden famly life is revealed, and he learns that things are not always as they seem. Sarah's departure has left a gaping hole in Franklin’s life and his heart. If he is to be a true friend he must now assume some major personal risk.

Donutheart is the second book about Franklin and Sarah. While I read and thoroughly enjoyed the story, I wonder if I might have understood more had I read Donuthead first. I never fully grasped Franklin’s relationship with Gloria Nelots, nor the intense focus on Sarah by both his mother and Gloria. Maybe the first book would have answered those nagging questions and they could have been avoided.

Finally, I did have a bit of a problem in the way Stauffacher resolved Sarah's problem. While Franklin conquered his fears and made giant strides in going way beyond his comfortable boundaries in order to help Sarah, she is actually secured to safety by the additional help of another character. Despite those issues, the strength of Franklin’s voice and the story, itself, kept me reading, laughing and hungry for more.

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  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Solid review of an inspired book (a “personal code based on his ‘interpretation of the principles set forth by President Roosevelt in the New Deal'”!)

  • http://vikk.typepad.com/down_the_writers_path/ Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Gordon. I really enjoyed this one. The whole risk management thing cracked me up.