Choppy Socky Blues
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Choppy Socky Blues

by Ed Briant

Jason Smallfield's dad is every kid's ultimate role model—a movie stuntman with a black belt in karate. But to Jason, he's a top-ranking creep for lying and chucking his family. To help make sure he ends up nothing like his dad, Jason is doing all he can to be as different from him as humanly possible. And that means giving up the one thing he loves most:


Jason Smallfield's dad is every kid's ultimate role model—a movie stuntman with a black belt in karate. But to Jason, he's a top-ranking creep for lying and chucking his family. To help make sure he ends up nothing like his dad, Jason is doing all he can to be as different from him as humanly possible. And that means giving up the one thing he loves most: karate.

His plan to be a non-creep is going well until he meets Tinga, a beautiful girl who tells him that she's testing for her blue belt soon. After sputtering that he's about to test for the same rank, Jason realizes he's in deep trouble. Because there's only one person who can get him ready in time . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In picture book author/illustrator Briant's first novel, 14-year-old Jason wants to be nothing like his father, a stunt man who runs a karate dojo and left his family two years ago. But then Jason meets Tinga, who's training for her blue belt, and Jason immediately says he is, too, which means asking his father for help getting back into shape. This story line loses urgency as the book progresses, but action scenes in the dojo are well drawn. Things are further complicated when it turns out that Tinga is dating Jason's former friend Malcolm. An uncomfortable scene in the shower leads Jason to think that Malcolm might be gay, but Jason still feels awful when Tinga dumps Malcolm to be with him. He breaks up with her, and his attempt to win her back leads to a confrontation with Malcolm. Although secondary characters like Tinga and Malcolm are less developed, Jason's insecurities, resentment toward (and gradual peacemaking with) his father, and obsession with girls are believably rendered—he's the kind of awkward hero readers will be glad to see come into his own. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Jacqueline Bach
After fantasizing about girls he finds in his brother's magazine collection, 14-year-old Jay is smitten by a real girl for the first time—so much so, that he decides to turn to his father, whom he hasn't spoken to in two years, for help. You see, Tinga is going up for her blue belt in 21 days and has invited Jay, a green belt, to spar with her. The trouble is, Jay hasn't practiced in two years, hence the decision to get in touch with his father. And, to make matters worse, Jay finds out that Tinga and Malcolm, his friend, have been dating. With occasional frank discussions about sex, Briant's novel is a sort of Judy Blume meets Louise Rennison (it's set in Southern England) for boys. It's a humorous, touching book told from the point of view of a likeable male who is discovering the complexities of relationships for the first time. Reviewer: Jacqueline Bach
VOYA - Robbie Flowers
Jay is determined not to turn into his father—his stunt-man, womanizing, storm-trooper-portraying, karate-black-belt father. He's well on his way to avoiding that life until Tinga comes along. She is everything Jay could want in a girlfriend—funny, smart, and a green belt in karate. The problem is that she is already taken by Malcolm, the closest thing Jay knows as a best friend. One little lie to Tinga and he's faced with losing Malcolm's friendship and getting beaten to a pulp, all in one swoop. Jay finds himself thrust back into training for his blue belt in karate, something he hasn't done in two years. To make it worse, he has to be trained by the father he has been avoiding. Along the way, he tries to impress Tinga, gets his bike stolen, and is pummeled by a crazed sparring partner. Could there be any more action in this one? Probably not, but the pacing is right. The characters are interesting, and the plot is engaging. There is also a bit of mystery about the reasons Jay hasn't been allowed to see Malcolm, which will be revealed in time. This is a perfect find for any library serving teens. Its creative plot and interesting cast of characters will keep teens reading, and even capture boys' attention. The British slang is relatively easy to interpret and should be fun for the reader. This title is worthwhile for public and school libraries alike. Reviewer: Robbie Flowers
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—Jay, 14, is tired of everyone comparing him to his father, who deserted the family. He wants to distance himself from everything he associates with his dad, including karate, which he used to love. But when he runs into a girl who makes his heart jump, he finds himself in the middle of a lie: he tells her that he is also a green belt about ready to test for his next rank. Tinga invites him to take part in her test, and he has to swallow his pride and ask his father, a movie stunt man and karate instructor, to train him. Worse, he discovers that Tinga is actually the girlfriend of an old pal, and that he is on the road to stealing her away and breaking up their relationship—something his father would be inclined to do. The concerns of a teen wanting to express himself as an individual are universal. Using language authentic to the South of England setting and with an authentic narrator, the story is likely to appeal to reluctant readers, but the Briticisms might be difficult for that audience. The martial-arts angle will draw an audience in areas where karate is popular.—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Fourteen-year-old Jason Smallfield comes to understand that things are not always as they seem in a coming-of-age novel that packs a punch. Jason's father is a well-known movie stuntman, an expert in all things "choppy socky"-karate, defenestration and other fighting skills. Trevor Smallfield, according to Jason, is a man who lied, cheated and deserted his family, and Jason has never forgiven him, but the protagonist comes to realize that his parents, friends and Tinga, the girl he's falling in love with, aren't always what they seem. Could this be true of his father as well? Though everything Jason knows about girls comes from porn magazines, his relationship with a real girl named Tinga is appropriately sweet, restrained and tentative, and his growing understanding of the people in his world is subtly evoked. In a field of fine coming-of-age novels for girls, here's one that boys will get a kick out of. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2010 Ed Briant
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7387-1897-2

Chapter One

My name is Jason Smallfield, I'm fourteen, and my father is an Imperial storm trooper.

He's right there, twenty yards away-on the opposite side of Trafalgar Street-all six foot four of him in his eighteen-piece battle armor and nifty blaster. As for me, I'm safely hidden in the deep early evening shadows of a crumbling archway. Safe for now at least.

You can tell it's him since he's not wearing his helmet, which is tucked under his arm. His thick black hair is swept back from his high forehead, and he's showing all his perfect teeth in a smile that makes it look like he's posing for a toothpaste commercial. In the movies they don't normally show you what storm troopers look like without their helmets, in case you start to think of them as real people. They don't want you to sympathize with them. But I think I'd have more sympathy for this particular storm trooper if his helmet was still on.

Of course he's been other things besides a storm trooper. In his time he's also been a henchman for SPECTER in a couple of James Bond movies; a cyberman in Doctor Who; and a zombie in Shaun of the Dead, not to mention a Viking, a Roman centurion, a pirate, a highwayman, and at one time, a not-very-realistic overgrown chimpanzee.

In other words, he's a stunt man. If you've spent any time at all in front of a screen that shows moving pictures, you've probably seen him. You know in Return of the Jedi when they attack the shield generator? My dad's the storm trooper who gets shot first and falls from the top of the bunker.

Even though he's been in other things, it's his storm trooper days he's most proud of. That's why he has the life-sized cardboard cutout of himself in the window of his very own karate dojo. And that's what I'm looking at right now.

True. He doesn't describe himself as a storm trooper on his business card. His card says: Trevor Smallfield, defenestration is my vocation. Defenestration literally means being thrown out of the window. It comes from the Latin word for window, which is fenestra. He had the cards printed after he was thrown out of his hundredth window, or so he says.

The word defenestration serves two purposes at the same time. It tells you what he does for a living, but using the word also makes him sound smart and intellectual, which he isn't.

Of course he doesn't just get thrown out of windows. He's also been lasered, blasted, thrown off spaceships, dropped off bridges, run over by lorries, and-on one occasion-he was even bitten in half by the Ravenous Bugblatter beast of Traal.

In the last few years my dad's been getting less work. This has nothing to with the fact that there's less evil in the world-I mean, how often do you see an out-of-work storm trooper? It has a lot to do with the fact that more and more stunts are done digitally rather than by real stunt men, and also quite a lot to do with the fact that at forty-five, my father's no longer quite so good at recovering from his defenestrations.

He first got into being a stunt man from being an expert at all things choppy-socky. He could do fight scenes. So now in his declining years he's returned to his roots. With an eye to the future, he opened one of the largest karate dojos in the South of England, at the top of Trafalgar Street, right in the center of Port Agnes.

Being kicked and punched by school children is far less damaging than being tossed out of high windows, and he can bring in no end of potential students by displaying the big cardboard cutout of himself in his storm-trooper's kit. I have to admit that it's not a bad plan. He can pass on a lifetime of physical injuries to a new generation, and at the same time keep making a living well into his dotage, because as time goes on, he knows that he's going to be less and less defenestrate-able.

So, that's my dad. He's a semi-retired stunt man who runs a karate school. Who could have a problem with that? I'm his son, and sons are supposed to look up to their dads-see them as role models-but I don't. I suppose I'd better explain why I've got it in for him. Lay it all out, as it were. The reason is that he's been a storm trooper for so long that he's lost touch with where the storm trooper ends and the dad is supposed to begin. It seems that you can always take the dad out of the battle armor, but you can't always take the storm trooper out of the dad.

You expect a storm trooper to be devious, unreliable, and untrustworthy, whereas you expect a dad to be honest, reliable, and loyal. My dad-on the other hand-is anything but honest, reliable, and loyal. He lied, he cheated, and he deserted his family. He's not just proud of having been a storm trooper, he still is one.

Why would I want to have somebody like that as a role model?

If anything he's an anti-role model.

I do not want to be like him. Does that make me a bad son? Maybe it does, but if I have to be a bad son to be a better person than he is, then that is the price I have to pay.

I'm going to go out of my way to be honest; I'm going to go out of my way to be fair; and if I ever get married-and I'm not sure that's likely given my looks and personality-but if I do, I will not walk out after twenty years just because I've found someone I like better.

When I say I'm going to go out of my way to be different, I mean it. I mean, I'm fighting genetics here, and in order to fight genetics I am going to have to go to extreme measures. This is not just one of those empty rants. I have even given up one of my favorite activities just to be different from him.

Namely karate.

I was always useless at sports. I threw like a girl and I couldn't catch. I was always on the losing side, and it wasn't just bad luck that I was always on the losing side. The team I was on always lost because they had me on their side and I was such a liability being so useless.

When I turned ten, Dad decided it was time for me to be initiated into the wonderful world of choppy-socky myself. Back then he didn't have his own dojo, so he gave me lessons at home in the back garden, just like he'd started doing two years earlier with my brother Hugh. At first I wasn't so keen, but after only a few weeks I could throw front kicks, back kicks, side kicks, roundhouse kicks, and even a presentable spinning hook kick. I still couldn't throw a ball, but I could throw a punch hard enough to splinter an inch-thick wooden board-at least with my left hand. After a month or so I wasn't just keen, I loved it so much I even slept in my uniform.

Dad was a qualified teacher, and I moved up through the belts, but then he moved out just before my blue-belt test and that was that. I could have gone to another dojo, but I didn't want to. Back then I couldn't really say why I didn't want to do karate anymore, but now I know. Even back then I sensed what I now know.

I think this is really the most important piece of my whole plan to be different than him. Choppy-socky was part of what made my dad what he is. Ever since he was ten he's lived, breathed, eaten, and drunk karate. When most people have a mental image of their dads, they probably see a kindly bloke mowing the lawn or cleaning the car. Whenever I have an image of my dad, I see him wearing his white gi and his black belt, crouched down in horse stance.

As far as I'm concerned he is choppy-socky, and choppy-socky is him.

I think if I can just resist the urge to do karate for the rest of my life, then everything else will just fall into place and maybe, just maybe, I will become a half-decent human being.

I'm so sure of this that I feel quite safe walking past his dojo in the evenings. I can even stand in the shadows like I'm doing now and watch him teach his teen class, which is the one I would be in if I was still training. I can watch the dozen or so blokes, and the odd girl or two, in their perfect white gi warming up with jumping jacks and push-ups. I can watch them practice their drills and forms. I can listen to the pops and slaps as they hit one another while sparring. I can do all that, and not have the smallest temptation to go in there.

Just to be on the safe side, I won't do tae kwon do, judo, aikido, kung fu, or muay thai either, because they all amount to the same thing in the end.

Never again will I throw a spinning hook kick.

If he wants to break bones, then maybe I will become a doctor and put them back together again. If I can't be a doctor I'll be an ambulance driver. If I can't be an ambulance driver I'll be a nurse.

That'll show him.


Excerpted from CHOPPY SOCKY BLUES by ED BRIANT Copyright © 2010 by Ed Briant. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ed Briant is a professional illustrator, writer, and the creator and illustrator of the comic strip “Tales from the Slush Pile,” a popular comic strip appearing online at Publishers Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf. He has two daughters, teaches illustration, and occasionally practices roundhouse kicks in the kitchen when he thinks nobody is watching. Choppy Socky Blues was his first book for young adults. Briant grew up in Brighton, England and now lives in Savannah, GA. He can be found online at

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