• Kurt Dinan

Funny YA

Prepare yourself for a moment of snobbery from me.


It’s not very often a book makes me laugh.

I mean, I find books funny, but an actual book that makes me laugh out loud (or LOL if you’re hip), doesn’t happen often. Maybe it’s that I’ve been reading the wrong books. Or maybe, and this is what I think, it’s that humor is hard to pull off on the page. I mean, in a film or TV show you have the visual, and a comedian has their voice and stage presence at their disposal, but a novel is just black words on a white page. You’re weapons are limited, and so I’m always impressed when a novel has me laughing in a quiet room. But before I go and break the golden rule of humor–never try to explain why something is funny–I’ll skip to the important stuff.

By some wonderful gift from the universe, the last three YA novels I’ve read were extremely funny. I’ve already talked about one of them, DENTON’S LITTLE DEATH DATE, a book you should buy right now for yourself. (Or that upcoming high school graduate, because what are you going to do, buy them Oh, The Places You’ll Go? like every other person out there? Just stop it. Buy them DLDD instead. It’s a great, chaotic, start of summer book.)

Then there’s Josh Lieb’s I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL AND I WANT TO BE YOUR CLASS PRESIDENT. I read this entire book in the hospital waiting for my daughter to be born, and man, it just made me wish Josh Lieb lived next door to me. Or in my basement. One or the other. But GENIUS is about Oliver, a 7th grade evil genius who…well hell, read the title again, it’s as on the nose as you can get. What’s brilliant about this book is that Oliver pretends to be the dumbest kid in his class to mask his intelligence. Think Ralph Wiggum if he was really a genius instead of a dope.

Here’s Oliver early in the book: “They say that men inherit their brains from their mothers. This is false. My mother is a shapeless, witless, mass of mousy hair, belly fat, and boobs. Don’t get me wrong, I am very fond of her. (Do I love her? Am I capable of love? A question even I can’t answer.) She is very useful for making grilled-cheese sandwiches and tucking me into bed. I like to make her smile, and I try to do that a lot.

Does that detract from my evil? No. Even Vlad the Impaler had a mother. My fondness for ‘Mom’ (she likes to be called that) serves as a nice counterpoint* to the general rottenness of my character.

*Go look up “counterpoint” in the dictionary.”

Excellent, right? And even if you think that’s not funny–which it is and if you disagree you suck–I promise you’ll love this book. A friend and current student (two people, not one) both agree, after I pushed it on them.

Oh, and a great cover, too!

Then, oh man, by some sort of cosmic kismet, David Iserson’s FIRECRACKER ended up on my classroom bookshelf. Without cheating and looking at the back of the book or copy and pasting the Goodreads summary: Astrid Krieger is rich, privileged, better-than-you, and now that’s she’s been kicked out of her private school for cheating, breaking the law, causing chaos and panic, you name it, she has to attend public school for the first time in her life. The voice in this novel is perfect. Astrid is the girl you would never want to know in real life but damn it, you love her in this. Here’s a few of Astrid’s observations:

“Things were about to change. If nothing changed, I wouldn’t be writing this down because this is a book about the time when everything changed. And isn’t that what every book is about? No, seriously, isn’t it? I don’t know. I don’t read books.”

[After her boyfriend mentions an ex-girlfriend]: ‘Her name was Julie and she was ugly. He never said that, but it’s how I pictured her. I pictured her ugly with a messed-up hand.”

“You could probably guess exactly what Lucy Redlich was like. I think it’s universal that the girl who is the principal’s go-to for showing people around for no personal gain is rarely the sort who attracts other people. Lucy was covered in freckles and ate her own hair. She munched on that stuff like it was dinner. It was disgusting. I’m getting a little queasy just thinking about it right now.”

And the cover for this one? Great, too!

And before someone points out the obvious omission here, yes, I do read women YA writers, too. In fact, I’m currently reading Libba Bray’s BEAUTY QUEENS. It’s hilarious, but I’ll wait to finish the novel to give you my complete thoughts. Oh, while it’s in my head, if you haven’t read Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF you’re life isn’t complete and we can no longer be friends. Brosh’s book isn’t labeled YA, but I think every kid should read it, especially the sections on depression. It’s one of the most eye-opening pieces I’ve ever read.

So what laugh out loud YA novels have you read? Add a comment. (Please! It’s so lonely here!)

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