Rancho Rosetta Days

Bowling for Soup make suffering painful teen (tween) cliques fun.

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time is the fourth Lisa Yee book I’ve read. I was introduced to her writing through a contest at the Rice Daddies blog. Lisa had generously donated five sets of her Bobby Ellis-Chan books as prizes (Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)).

Even though my children and I read the Bobby books together over a year ago and there have been many books since, every now and then they will act out the scene where Bobby’s little sister discovers that goldfish poop and pee in the same water that they eat and play in. They’ll recite their lines and just start giggling uncontrollably. For me, this is the best testimonial to Lisa’s talent as a writer.

The Bobby books, Warp Speed, and Stanford Wong are all set in the fictional community of Rancho Rosetta. But only Warp Speed and Stanford Wong share the same characters. Bobby still has a year or two to go before he’s old enough to join Marley (Warp Speed) and Stanford in middle school.

Maybe it’s because I read the books in reverse order, I started with Bobby and ended with Stanford (with Marley in the middle), or maybe it’s just because I have more in common with Marley (Star Trek, superheroes, and AV Club) than with Stanford (basketball), but it took me a little longer to finish Stanford’s book. It seemed a little clichéd.

Bobby’s stories introduced me to a single stay-at-home dad, a former football player who struggles to impress his kids in the kitchen. Marley’s family struggles to maintain a rundown movie theater. But Stanford seems to be your average run-of-the-mill (albeit superbly written) dumb jock. She gives him his “Stress Mess”, a quirky stress relieving habit he has, but that’s about it. The rest of Stanford’s life seems to be one cliché after another — failing school, bullying other kids to stay in good with his “friends”, pining away for a girl who seems out of his league, etc.

What might have made him more interesting is how Stanford might have had to fail or do poorly in a class in order to retain the company of his friends. Forget Millicent (the brainiac girl from Lisa’s first book who tutors Stanford). What if the story was that Stanford was a very good student up until he gets to middle school. He sees all of the good students tormented by the jocks and popular kids, so he purposely fails tests to maintain a C+/B to fit in.

He might then have an awakening of some sort (maybe as a result of meeting Emily Ebers or a result of something traumatic happening to his grandmother). His ailing grandmother might punctuate a lesson to always be true to yourself. Stanford might have walked between the worlds of jock and bookworm.

Just a thought…

I’m not saying Stanford was a bad book. I have to admit the ending like the ending of the second Bobby book made me have to tilt my head back and tell my children an eyelash had gotten in my eye. But overall, Stanford simply wasn’t as good as the ones that followed it.

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