Cricket Man

Cricket Man

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
     
 

Kenny Sykes is on a mission. He's determined to make his mark somehow in his new town and his new school. In the meantime, he's appointed himself the secret savior of the hundreds of crickets who seem bound to commit suicide by jumping into Kenny's pool. Why he wants to save them, he's not entirely sure. But once school starts again, Cricket Man finds that there

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Overview

Kenny Sykes is on a mission. He's determined to make his mark somehow in his new town and his new school. In the meantime, he's appointed himself the secret savior of the hundreds of crickets who seem bound to commit suicide by jumping into Kenny's pool. Why he wants to save them, he's not entirely sure. But once school starts again, Cricket Man finds that there are more important things that need saving. Namely, Jodie Poindexter — beautiful junior, across-the-street neighbor, and, underneath her com-posed facade, the most troubled and secretive girl in school.

Newbery Medal winner Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has crafted a funny and heartwarming story about how growing up is as much a choice as it is a given.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
Thirteen-year-old Kenny Sykes dreams of becoming a photographer, getting to know his pretty 16-year-old neighbor, Jodie, and becoming a "Neighborhood Watch of one." By the end of the book, he's accomplished two of the three. In keeping with goals one and three, Kenny spends most of the summer rescuing unsuspecting crickets from certain death in his family's pool. Though few appreciate his noble efforts, the acts themselves are gratifying enough. In fact, Kenny feels so good saving the little critters that he takes on an alter ego: Cricket Man! As with other superheroes, Kenny's new identity gives him new-found confidence: at school, he speaks up for himself; at the public pool, he saves a child from drowning; and, perhaps most amazing of all, he slowly develops a relationship with Jodie. Initially flattered by her attention, Kenny eventually realizes she is deeply troubled, and determines to do his best to help her. Kenny comes across as a male version of Naylor's beloved Alice: likable, intelligent, well-meaning, and kind. Cricket Man is further reminiscent of the Alice books in that it tackles sexuality and mature themes head on. While anything penned by Naylor is worth reading, this is not her strongest work. Despite its male protagonist, it is hard to imagine male readers getting invested in Jodie's problems—not to mention a huge subplot about a wedding. Considering the caliber, scope and sheer volume of Naylor's books, even a diehard fan like myself would recommend many of her previous novels above this one. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
School Library Journal

Gr 6-8

This story covers nine months in the life of eighth-grader Kenny Sykes, socially inept and more of an observer than a doer. Noticing that his 16-year-old neighbor, Jodie Poindexter, is terribly unhappy, Kenny imagines himself a hero, the Cricket Man, who saves her, just as he decides the fate of crickets trapped in the family's pool. Slowly, Kenny stops idealizing Jodie and develops a friendship with her. They share New Year's Eve together, sitting on the roof of his house. Then Kenny has almost no contact with her until a few months later, when she calls begging for his help. Finally Kenny gets the chance to save her-as she gives birth on a picnic table. Rounding out this time in his life are his relationships with his skateboarding friends, a run-in with the vice principal, his sister's engagement and wedding, and the opportunity to rescue a boy from drowning in the town pool. Naylor has written a quiet story that will find an audience with those who enjoy reading about a rather privileged world in which, at least from Kenny's perspective and that of his family, is largely untroubled. Beautifully written, this book showcases the author's superb narrative skills.-Catherine Ensley, Latah County Free Library District, Moscow, ID

Kirkus Reviews
Kenny Sykes is new to the neighborhood. At first, it's a slow summer: He spends his time taking care of his younger brother, listening to his sister go on and on about her upcoming wedding, swimming laps and saving crickets from the family pool-thus forming his half-serious identity as Cricket Man, insect-rescuing superhero. Things pick up as he makes friends who will attend middle school with him in the fall, and together, they learn to skateboard. Once school starts with the usual ups and downs, Kenny begins to notice Jodie, the gorgeous high-school junior who lives directly across the street. Of course, she's totally out of his league, but the two form an unlikely friendship, and before long, Kenny realizes that it's not only the crickets who need saving. Issues such as student privacy, depression and teen pregnancy are addressed, and while this is not one of Naylor's major works, it is still engaging, pertinent and a good choice for reluctant readers. (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416949817
Publisher:
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
09/30/2008
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.96(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.81(d)
Lexile:
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than 135 books, including the Newbery Award–winning Shiloh and the Alice series. She lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. To hear from Phyllis and find out more about Alice, visit AliceMcKinley.com.

Read an Excerpt

one

It's about midnight, I guess, when I see her on the roof of her porch.

There are four models of houses in our neighborhood, and every fourth house is like ours — two front bedrooms that look out over the porch roof, two back bedrooms. The minute Mom assigned me one of the front bedrooms, I knew I'd be out on the roof of that porch sometime. I knew I'd want to climb out there some soft spring evening. Sit out there some hot summer midnight. Some Saturday in fall, maybe — my ears a recorder, my eyes a camera — just watching the world.

Jodie Poindexter is at least three years older than me, and she's had a couple of different boyfriends since we moved here. She's in this big yellow house across the street, one house down, goes to high school, drives her dad's car, and has a complexion like peach ice cream. I go to middle school, don't have my license yet, and am currently sporting a couple of zits on my chin that look like I was stabbed by a fork.

There's something about being out on the porch roof at night that gives you a feeling of power. I mean, you know those signs? The ones with the human eye on them? wa rni ng: this area is under obs ervat ion by a neighborhood wat ch pat rol? Well, I'm like that eye. I wear my navy blue sweats so I'm not too visible, and dream about the night I'll see a truck back up in a neighbor's driveway while the neighbor's away on vacation. Somebody will start hauling out TVs and computers and stuff, never knowing I'm there. It would be cool if I could swing down like Spider-Man and take out the bad guys. What would really happen is I'd crawl back in through the window and call the police.

Mostly, though, I just like to be out there to catch a breeze and think. What I think about most is school. Funny about middle school. You do one small thing out of line, and they notice — the kids, I mean.

There was this one girl, Mary Cerro, who had an accident in class. She got up from her seat and she'd bled on the back of her skirt. From then on, she was Bloody Mary. Not to her face, where she could have said something back. Guys just gave her mocking smiles, and after she'd pass, one would say, "Bloody Mary on the rocks," or something dumb like that. Like that one moment in time was going to define her forever.

And this guy Bill — Bill somebody. I don't remember because they moved away. But he stuttered. Mostly when he had to speak in class. He was a really nice kid — we ate together sometimes, talked about the Winter Olympics. He's a snowboarder. But one day in class he had to read his report, and he stuttered so bad he couldn't get past the first sentence. Kept blinking and tensing his jaw and we all felt...I don't know. Helpless. Like we wanted to do something but didn't know what. Even the teacher looked embarrassed.

Suddenly Bill started to cry. Quietly. Just stood there, tears running down his face, his neck and ears flaming red. The teacher said he could sit down, she'd accept a written report. I don't see how anyone in that room couldn't feel sorry for him right then. But the fact was that in those ten seconds between his last syllable and the crying, his eyes kept blinking and his head made little jerking motions. And later, someone called him Bill Blinky. The name stuck. From then on, he was known around school as "Blinky."

Middle school is where they never forgive. Or forget.

One time in sixth, I threw up in the library, and even though the janitor mopped it up, kids still walked around that spot on the carpet. "The Upchuck Kid," they called me, sometimes "Chuck" for short. They didn't know I swim. Didn't know I skate. You slip up once, buddy, you're done. I've been in this new school now for a year, and am lucky, I guess. No label yet.

It's stuff like this I think about out on the roof, but this one night — I guess it's the first of August — I'm sitting out there in my invisible sweats. I'm leaning forward, arms resting on my knees, when I notice this person on the porch roof across the street, and she looks like she's naked.

Now I'm really staring. Then I see that she's got on a bikini. Or maybe it's just a bra and underwear. She probably doesn't realize that bare skin shows up pretty well in the moonlight. She's sitting on a towel or something, same position as me, arms resting on her knees, but her head's on her arms. Facedown. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble to open your window, remove the screen, climb out with your beach towel, and sit on the porch roof, I'd think you'd sort of want to look around. Study the sky. But there she sits, Jodie Poindexter, with her head buried in her arms, and I wonder if she's okay.

I only see her around the neighborhood, so I don't know what she's like at high school. I just know that when our family moved here last September, she was going out with a tall, muscular guy. They broke up around Christmas, and after that it was a short, muscular guy who stopped by every morning to drive her to school in his dad's BMW.

Once I saw him bring her home around two in the morning. I was out on the roof that night. He parked down the block, away from the streetlight, and when they finally got out, he backed her up against the car and you could pretty much tell what they were doing. I figured she must like this guy a lot.

They went to the prom together in May. I watched Jodie, in her long black gown, come out of the house and get into this stretch limo with the row of lights along the side. But now, I realize, I haven't seen him around for the last week or so.

Sometimes you can tell by the shape of the shoulders if a person's sad. But this time I don't need shoulders to tell me. She shakes her head back and forth without even lifting it off her knees. Then she's still.

Whew! I'm thinking. I didn't expect this when I climbed out on the roof tonight. I hardly even know Jodie, and she doesn't know me. We're like two ships passing in the neighborhood night.

So I just sit there, watching her, and wish I could help. I wonder if she hears the crickets. A fire truck over on Democracy Boulevard. I hope she hasn't fallen asleep. If she has, I'll have to sit out here all night making sure she doesn't start to tilt. If she slumps over, I'll have to yell and wake her, so she won't fall off the roof.

But she isn't asleep. After a long, long while, she lifts her head and tips it back — way back — then hunches her shoulders about as high as they'll go and lets them drop. She looks all around, and when she's turned in my direction, her head stops moving and I can feel my heart speeding up.

You can't see someone's eyes in the dark, but I just know — the way her body goes on alert — that she's seen me. Here we are, actually looking at each other.

I can't move. I can't even breathe. It's like we're each doing something we shouldn't, caught in a place we shouldn't be. For five seconds...ten, maybe...we just sit there in the moonlight, looking at each other. And then she stands up in her underwear, rolls up her towel, and — just before she crawls back inside — waves.

Copyright © 2008 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

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