The only problem with Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy Returns is that it is too short. A significant departure from Paulsen’s other recent release, Woods Runner , Lawn Boy Returns illustrates the incredible versatility of this Newbery winning author. Where Woods Runner is a gripping, and grueling look at the hardships of war, Lawn Boy Returns romps with 12-year old humor through a madcap maze of corporate finance, prize-fighting, and friendship.
Unlike the protagonists of Paulsen’s adventure novels, Lawn Boy faces complications that are chaotic rather than life-threatening. Picking up where the 2007 Lawn Boy left off, Lawn Boy Returns follows the eponymous main character’s adventures in corporate intrigue. Lawn Boy had inherited his grandfather’s riding mower, and, seeking to buy a new inner tube for his bicycle, started a lawn mowing service. With the help of Arnold, an aging hippie stockbroker, Lawn Boy turned his mowing earnings into a corporate empire with landscaping and cleaning franchises and the sponsorship of a prize-fighter named Joey Pow.
Lawn Boy Returns deals with the cascading aftermath of fortune and its attending fame. Lawn Boy suddenly finds himself surrounded by lawyers, accountants, and a publicist – a sly tribute by Paulsen to his own Random House publicist, Kathy Dunn. Lawn Boy is dogged by the IRS, threatened by mobsters who want Joey to throw fights, and an RV dwelling, beer-swilling low-life named Zed.
Don’t despair; Lawn Boy is not without resources. From Arnold the stockbroker to his best friends Kenny and Allen, the deceptively simple Joey Pow, and his fire-engine-red tressed, kidney-punching grandmother, Lawn Boy’s allies have got his back. Paulsen packs this mere 101 pages with funny, quirky, and unforgettable characters. A few lines about each say everything.
”Grandma, you punched Zed in the gut!”
“No, dear, it was the kidney. It’s extreme, and not proper in the ring, but a very effective tool when you’re under attack. He’ll pee blood for several, but he’ll never show up to make trouble for Joey again.”
“How do you know about punching kidneys?”
“Joey taught me. The secret is to keep your wrist straight and aim two feet past the target and get the weight of your shoulder into the blow. And when you make chocolate Bundt cake with the river of pudding in the middle, it’s important to remember to use the cook-and-serve pudding and not the instant mix or it’s not so much a river as it is thin ooze, and no one wants that on their dessert plate.”
Grandma is never lacking in life lessons and surprises.”
Grandma’s mix of eclectic and detailed advice is vintage Paulsen. An author who can mix dog-sledding, sailing, war, and rattlesnakes into one conversation , Gary Paulsen has retained the adventurous spirit of the 12-year old boy. And, he can write from the mind and heart of a young boy like few others. Listen to Lawn Boy describe his friend Kenny’s summer camp experience: “…he and the guys in his cabin had started a hard-core heavy metal headbanging band they called Infected Wound, had gotten in trouble for collecting leeches and applying them to each other’s butt cheeks to see if they really did have medicinal properties, and as punishment had been forced to play board games with the camp director’s spoiled-rotten seven-year-old grandson.” If a (not quite) middle-aged mother, notoriously unsympathetic to fart jokes, can laugh hysterically throughout this book, imagine the effect on most kids.
The fast-turning pages of Lawn Boy Returns are packed with heart, humor, and a few sneakily placed lessons.