Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mandy Reviews: The Word Gang by Mark McKenna

ISBN #: 978-0983105534
Page Count: 255
Copyright: December 8, 2010
Publisher: Precipitation Press

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Kalisha Jackson is a student with a stomach-churning secret - she cut school for a year and never got caught.

A new year begins. Kalisha decides to return to school. While waiting for the bus she sees an old man struggling with a heavy grocery cart. She stops to help and meets Albrecht Spinoza, a man who can speak seventeen languages, but who's had no one to talk to since the death of his beloved wife, Rosa.

Kalisha is late the first day setting off a conflict with her teacher, Jack Ralston. She's been stuck in something called "Project Restart," a strange new program in which the penalty for not doing well is a special classroom in Juvenile Hall.

Mr. Spinoza gives Kalisha a copy of the Compact Oxford dictionary. But the more 'big' words Kalisha learns, the less everyone understands her, and the madder Jack Ralston seems to get. Which to Kalisha and her new friends sounds like fun - and a great way to destroy Project Restart.

That is, if they can avoid getting trammeled, proscribed, or incarcerated first!

Mandy's Review:

This book almost seemed like a step back into time. First of all, how can any child cut a whole year of school and not get caught? Nowadays, the school would've sent truant officers to your door.

There was another part where the characters mentioned recording the news with their VCRs. I know people still have VCR/DVD combos in their houses, but most people nowadays would've recorded the news on their DVRs.

I don't recall the year ever being mentioned, but it does make me wonder if this was intended to reflect the early- to mid-1980s.

Kalisha is the daughter of an African-American mother, who is a nurse, and a Caucasian father, who is a writer. A few years before the novel begins, her father fell in love with his editor, divorced Kalisha's mother and moved to California with his beloved leaving behind three children. Kalisha, being the oldest, helps her mother with her two younger siblings every chance she gets, especially at night while her mother works on the ICU floor of the local hospital.

Kalisha seems very capable of handling a household. She knows how to cook, clean and supervise children. She takes other people's feelings into consideration and changes her intentions to accommodate them and make them feel comfortable. Where she's not so capable is in school.

Her new class, Project Restart, is headed by the school's vice principal. Mr. Ralston is selfish, arrogant and extremely judgmental. He automatically dislikes all the children in his class, but especially Kalisha due to her being late on the very first day of school. When two other students begin sticking up for her, Mr. Ralston expands his dislike to both BD and Sahmbaht. It doesn't help when the three of them start using words Mr. Ralston doesn't know the meaning to. It makes him feel belittled and angers him even more ... which he, of course, takes out on the students in his class.

BD, Sahmbaht and Kalisha's use of obscure words gives Kalisha the ammunition to call their little group the Word Gang. The three of them study dictionaries to find old words and use them during class time in order to purposefully anger Mr. Ralston. Kalisha's mother makes her promise to behave and to be respectful of Mr. Ralston, even if she doesn't like him. Her mother tries to tell Kalisha that there will always be people in life we don't like, but sometimes you still have to respect them.

Kalisha didn't really learn this lesson.

Eventually the Word Gang's actions get them expelled which fuels a national media coverage and threatens Project Restart's viability.

Overall, this novel was extremely well-written. The characters were relatable and familiar. Told in the third-person, the reader gets the chance to see how all of the main characters think and feel. It's an intriguing story that will have you rooting for the underdogs.

*A physical copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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