Review: Whippersnapper by Felice Arena. Witty, touching and smoothly written, Whippersnapper comes highly recommended!

Reviewed by Cameron Hindrum, Riverside High School, Launceston, Tasmania

14 year old Gus Delfino lives for basketball and is eagerly anticipating his team’s upcoming finals performance. His attentions are divided by Annie, his friendly but plain-looking neighbour, and Lilly, the Prettiest Girl in School. Also standing in his way is Corey, the local bully. After a sudden bereavement Gus is involved in a potentially serious accident, as a result of which he wakes up feeling not quite himself…in fact, he’s in the body of the 70-year-old man who coached his basketball team to its only other Grand Final appearance, 35 years previously, when it lost. While battling fashion disasters and having to negotiate some awkward situations with his ‘wife’, Gus has to keep his team on track to win the final—and of course, this is no mean feat when your friends and family no longer recognise you!

As the bizarre situation in which he finds himself becomes increasingly complicated, Gus is able to achieve some insights to his own identity and in particular his feelings for Annie. Along the way, perhaps inevitably, he learns some important lessons—about empathy and the importance of family.

Felice Arena spins a ripping yarn in this well-plotted and highly engaging fantasy. The story zips along and is tempered in a couple of scenes with some deft touches of humour. Arena clearly has a good ear for dialogue, especially the often quirky usages often employed teenagers, and as a result his characters are well drawn and interesting. It would have been easy for a story such as this one to descend into outright farce, but Arena avoids this—and not only avoids it, but imbues the story with moments of genuine tenderness and pathos.

The temptation is to say that since this book focuses on sport it will appeal to boys, especially those who are reluctant to read. While this may be the case, it deserves a wider readership and I suspect that in fact it will appeal to all younger readers.  It would indeed be a good title to use in tempting slightly older boys to pick up a book, however.

Whippersnapper would also work well is a read-aloud text or for students in upper primary, or who are working in smaller groups or literature circles. It could be used to generate some interesting discussions around the concept of aging, and treatment of the elderly. It could also generate conversations in the classroom around bullying and perceptions based on appearance.

Witty, touching and smoothly written, Whippersnapper comes highly recommended.

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