Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Lucky Cap

by Patrick Jennings
EgmontUSA (April 2011)
Ages 8-12

Patrick Jennings has got to be one of my favorite writers, not just because he writes in such an easy going carefree style, delivered with engaging humor and peppered with pathos, but because he takes risks. He does his own thing, regardless of conventional expectations. Case in point: Lucky Cap, his latest novel for middle grade readers.

In Lucky Cap, eleven-year old Enzo Harpold goes from average to amazingest in the blink of an eye when his father takes a management position with the ultimate sporting goods company, Kap, and off they go on a summer tour of Kap outlets, complete with personal lessons by sports legends and an all around can't-be-topped experience. The story opens just as Enzo's fantasy summer is coming to an end and he's faced with the horror of starting sixth grade. His biggest fear is that he'll go from top of world to bottom of the heap just as quickly as he ascended to glory.

Except for one thing: Enzo has a special prototype cap given to him by his dad's boss at Kap. Enzo is convinced that this cap has imbued him with some sort of magical middle school mojo. Given the phenomenal good luck he has on his first day of sixth grade (being nominated class president, attracting girls left and right, getting in with the cool kids), Enzo's confidence runs amok. Read: this kid has an out-of-control, over-the-top ego. And this is where Jennings takes his biggest risk. Creating a character/narrator that's, well, rather hard to love.

If Enzo's ego and good fortune hadn't been so over-the-top, it would be difficult to justify an entire novel in his defense. But since it is over the top, and there's no defending the way Enzo treats his best friend from elementary school (not to mention girls and kids who get in his way), by the time he loses his cap and spirals out of control, it all starts to come together.

In a way, Enzo's story reads like a deal with the devil, in which the devil's abode looks and functions a lot like middle school and survival of the best-dressed/most-glib/social climbers—in fact, a microcosm of the larger world we all live in. His dad's boss at Kap behaves a lot like a silver-tongued emissary from corporate Hades, plying young Enzo with a philosophy of accumulation and egocentrism. This kid goes completely off the rails, thanks to the fine makers of athletic wear and cold-hearted competition. Some readers might miss this, thinking Enzo is just a jerk, but I've read enough of Jenning's work to know he's not one to promote the slope-headed mentality of commercialism and convention.

The proof is in the ending, which I won't give away. You'll just have to read it to find out. Lucky Cap is not for readers expecting to cheer for a beleaguered underdog, but it shines as a tale of middle school madness.

Source: Copy provided by the publisher.

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