tHe crooKed WorD

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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Word Gang

The Word Gang
By Mark McKenna
pub. Dec. 8, 2010
266 pages

Kalisha Jackson is a girl with a stomach-churning secret – she cut school for a year and never got caught!
A new school 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 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 don’t get trammeled, proscribed or incarcerated first.


This is such a fun concept! I loved the characters! I felt McKenna fleshed them out, they were all clearly defined and felt real. Mr. Ralston at first felt a little caricature, but when his personality was balanced by some of the other teachers, I actually felt it fit really well. I enjoyed Kalisha and her family dynamics, Mr. Spinoza was engaging, BD and Sahmbaht were both a kick (both rebellious, one a little more wholesomely so than the other). I loved the parents' reaction on the whole to the Project Restart uproar when they find out about it, it's the reaction I was rooting for. This is a fun story with some heart and it does bring up interesting points of discussion about education (the best way to measure progress, encourage success, etc.). I also just want to say that I love that the kids would use some of these archaic words as a kind of slang even if it weren't exactly correct usage at that specific instant - very in character to me and charming.
I only have one beef, though I'm not sure if it will bother other readers. McKenna has chosen an omniscient narration which, I believe, is actually one of the hardest to pull off. It can feel messy, and unfortunately it does in this case. It feels the most choppy when delving into characters' flash backs and/or ponderings about past events, which are marked by *** before and after and typed in italics. The problem is that sometimes you don't know which character's point of view this is until half-way through. It feels slightly lazy. But, please understand, never confusing for longer than a paragraph. Now, at the end you do discover who "wrote" the story, but if it's purposefully done this way because of who the "author" really is, it should have been clearer.
Having said that, it is a delightfully fun story, a quick read, and, as I said before, definitely thought-provoking.
I give it 7/10 stars
This novel was generously given to me in exchange for an honest review. Thank-you Mr. McKenna!

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