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The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

4.3 11
by Josh Berk

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Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to


Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
New student Will Halpin is overweight and deaf, and he adeptly eavesdrops on conversations by lip-reading while his own inner monologue is off and running. Debut author Berk injects Will's narrative voice with humor, irreverence, and self-deprecation; readers are also privy to Will's occasional horny thoughts about girls, which are funny and genuine without being overly vulgar (“The first thing I notice is this: public school girls are freaking hot. Nice. I try to focus on that and not on the sinking feeling that it might be way harder not to fail here than I thought”). Midway through, the story really takes off: after a football player takes a spill down a mineshaft on a field trip, Will and his new friend Devon try to solve the mystery of the student's death. Investigations into sleazy teachers and liked (and not-so-well-liked) classmates ensue. Much of the book's second half takes place in IMs between Will and Devon, which push the story forward at a lively pace. An engrossing whodunit that subtly draws attention to social issues surrounding deafness. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Will Halpin has ditched his former "deaf school" and is now trying to merge into the auditory-able mainstream at Carbon High in eastern Pennsylvania. As the new, overweight kid who has to sit off to the side during classes so he can try to read the lips of both his teachers and his classmates, Will—no slouch when it comes to reading human reactions—quickly downsizes his social expectations and retreats back into the soundless cocoon of his own skull. Luckily for readers, it's darkly hilarious in there. That's this debut novel's most potent hook: the opportunity to spend some quality time inside the precociously perceptive and sardonically witty head of this ultimate outsider as he visually eavesdrops—and rips on—the sick subtleties of a typical high school's social order. What teens wouldn't want to have Will's skills as he, notebook in hand, monitors the school bus mirror and pieces together what all the cool kids are talking about? Most, Will discovers, as he deftly dissects personalities and devilishly deconstructs high school culture, are slavishly focused on being invited to an exclusive party being thrown by popular jock Pat. But when Pat dies during a field trip to a defunct coal mine, under suspicious circumstances, the story morphs into an engaging mystery as Will reluctantly accepts the unsettlingly friendly overtures of a quirky classmate bent on enlisting him as a partner in some amateur sleuthing. A coming-of-age mash-up of satire, realistic fiction, mystery, and ill-fated teen romance, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is a genre-bending breakthrough that teens are going to love.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School,Howell, MI
Kirkus Reviews
This witty tale of mainstreaming, misfits and murder glitters like the "Future Diamonds" that coal-mine souvenirs promise to someday become. Sixteen-year-old Will lives in Pennsylvania coal country. Correct guesses on a hearing test and a false promise to wear hearing aids allow him to mainstream for the first time. Being fat and deaf is no social boost, and lip reading-easier for Will than for someone deaf since birth, but still sketchy-only goes so far. In a droll present tense, ironic and self-mocking but somehow also centered, Will talks about his ancestor namesake's appearance in a history book as a ghost, his class's field trip that turns murderous and his dry acquiescence to sleuthing, a la the Hardy Boys, with eager geek pal Smiley. Dickinson and Poe receive equally keen references (a stolen "Deaf Child" traffic sign beats metaphorically under Will's bed). Only a cliched fatness explanation (overeating) and the implausibility of such highly successful lip reading distract; but the funny, clever voice and the small but spot-on thread of deaf politics make this a winner. (Fiction. 12-16)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2009:
"This witty tale of mainstreaming, misfits and murder glitters like the 'Future Diamonds' that coal-mine souvenirs promise to someday become."

From the Hardcover edition.

Brooke Heidecorn
Overweight and deaf, Will Halpin does not fit in his new mainstream high school. In one week he has only befriended the strangest kid in his class, Devon, and he's madly in love with a girl who previously dated Pat, the pretentious captain of the football team. Week two of school proves to be more interesting, when on a field trip Pat is mysteriously murdered. Will and Devon decide they are going to crack the case! Will's superior lip-reading skills and Devon's wily antics make them excellent detectives. The two communicate via text message and a primitive form of sign language. The sultry math teacher, the strange bus driver, and everyone who did and did not receive an invitation to Pat's party are suspects. This dynamic duo not only learns the surprising outcome of their investigation, but they also understand a new meaning of friendship and personal history. Reviewer: Brooke Heidecorn
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Being deaf has its benefits. On his first day at Carbon High School, Will Halpin finds out about a party by reading lips on his bus. Other than adding to his ability to secretly gain information, though, his difference makes his transition into the public school from the high school for deaf students difficult. The only person willing to be his friend is not very popular himself, so Will must decide between Devon Smiley and the possibility of gaining some social standing. Things turn dark on a class trip to the old coal mine, supposedly haunted by a ghost who shares Will's name. The star quarterback falls down a mine shaft, and the tragedy appears to be murder. Will and Smiley team up to solve the case but uncover even more mysteries than what they started with. The portrayal of life in high school is accurate and engaging. Will provides an observant viewpoint with a strong sarcastic voice. He is not always likeable, but he is very human and entertaining. The surrounding characters are also drawn fully and realistically. The tone does not always match the darker parts of the storyline, but it carries the story at a strong pace. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
VOYA - Grace Zokovitch
This book was really good. It was funny and mysterious. It kept me turning the page trying to figure out who the murderer was. The main character was easy to relate to despite the fact that he was deaf. It seemed that all of the characters had perfect personalities for each of their roles. Reviewer: Grace Zokovitch, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Diane Colson
Will Halpin takes a giant, uncertain leap when he leaves his school for the deaf to attend mainstream Carbon High School. He lands at the bottom of the social hierarchy, befriended by Devon Smiley, the kid who gets his swimming trunks flushed down the toilet by the popular football jocks. When one of these jocks is pushed into a coal shaft on a class field trip, Will and Devon team up for some serious, Hardy Boy-style detective work. Will's mad computer skills, his impressive ability to read lips, and his compelling need to uncover a truth buried in his own family tree, transform his awkward high school transition into a dangerous (but thrilling!) hunt for a killer. Author Berk's first novel is a masterful combination of light humor and edgy suspense, moving seamlessly from playful mockery of the high school social scene to the very real destruction of lives. Will is a delightful narrator: smart, wry, and insightful. His experiences in the hearing world, as well as his reflections on deaf culture, add another level of interest in this already compulsively readable novel. Like Ted in The London Eye Mystery (Siobhan Dowd, 2008), who was able to solve a mystery because his brain ran on "...a different operating system," Will is empowered by the loss of one sense to develop skills that few hearing people can claim. Readers will get a fine life lesson: Never underestimate the hefty, deaf kid. This book would be an excellent selection for teen book clubs. Reviewer: Diane Colson

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
820L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


It is a cool September morning. The sun is breaking through the pines, and the air carries a tangy scent of freshness and renewal only to be found on the first day of school. I am rocking my plus-size Phillies sweatshirt and waiting with the others at the bus stop. Well, not exactly "with" them. As often happens when I'm out in the world, I place myself a little bit apart from the herd. I lean against a tree a few feet off to the side of a triangle formation of two cute girls and a dude. I get their names: A.J., Teresa, and Gabby. They hardly acknowledge me, so I return the favor. I have a lot on my mind anyway.

Will I survive at the mainstream school? Should I seduce Nurse Weaver to stay out of special ed? I don't have a proven talent for normal, and it strains the limits of credibility to come up with a scenario that involves seducing Nurse Weaver, the school district RN who did my hearing test. (I passed, barely, by guessing and promising to wear my hearing aids, which are already stashed in my pocket--sucker!) Still, it is a fun thought. Nurse Weaver is a cutie. Thinking about seducing her is certainly preferable to imagining doing sexual favors for the person who really holds my future in her hands: Superintendent Sylvia P. Zirkel.

I had to write a plea to SPZ to let me transfer from the deaf school to Carbon High. It was mostly lies, since I figured she wouldn't really understand the fight that forced my departure from the school for the deaf. Infights and deaf-world arguments rarely make sense to anyone else. She gave a distinctly wary OK, but I still have to be on her good side. If she deems it necessary, I will be bounced. Regardless, I will not allow myself to be taken advantage of by Superintendent Zirkel--a woman who looks like a skeleton in a Beatles wig and smells like beef. This is my solemn vow. Amen.

Nurse Weaver might have guessed that I was fumbling through the hearing test, but she was impressed with my lipreading skills. They are fantastic, if I do say so myself. I was one of the two best lip-readers at my old school (the other being my ex-"girlfriend," Ebony). I'll have to rely on lipreading to get by, since this school district is still relatively underfunded despite all the newly rich moving in on the fringes of coal country. CHS cannot afford a cool captioning system like some of the fancy schools over the river. There are no interpreters. There's no structured "inclusion" program. What they have is pretty much "sink or swim." And from what I hear (so to sign, not speak), sink is the more common outcome.

The school bus comes, and I cruise on. Geez. I didn't factor in this being so terrifying, seeing these unfamiliar faces all scrubbed and happy. Who are these people? There is one guy, a half-asleep-looking weirdo, slouching in the back, who seems like he should be on a prison bus. I plop down on the first seat behind the bus driver.

The bus driver is a wiry and dangerous-looking man with a bizarre beard that rings his tanned face like an upside-down halo. Even though it is pretty cold out, he is wearing sandals, which reveal unnervingly long toenails. He is also eating a family-size bag of pork rinds for breakfast.

A cocky kid who gets on at a stop after mine says something to Jimmy Porkrinds about his sandals, to which he replies, "My feet, my business." Pretty deep. Someone should engrave it on a plaque and/or make it into an inspirational poster to hang in bathrooms. For the rest of the trip, J.P. talks to himself. I love people who talk to themselves. through the rearview mirrow, I lip-read some strange stuff coming out of his mouth. Stuff that might have been song lyrics: "Dig, dig, dig the hole, hidey-hidey hole" and "Joke the mole, smoke a bowl." I write in my notebook: JIMMY PORKRINDS = ADDLED POTHEAD OR GIFTED LYRICIST?

I also watch a few conversations from the rows behind me. Several kids, including Teresa and Gabby, have brought large envelopes with them and are waving them around. Those without envelopes seem a little sad. Somebody grabs Gabby's envelope, and a shiny piece of paper falls out and flutters to the ground. She freaks out and dives to catch it as if it was a baby falling to its death. "Dude, I am not missing that party," she says. "No way." She grabs it back up and carefully slides it into the envelope again with a smug expression. A.J. looks like he's not sure if he should laugh or cry. Join the club. Before long, with a fabulous mutter of "Watch yo' ass, Philip Glass" from J.P., we have arrived at school.


My day begins with a meeting in the principal's office. Principal's office already? Am I in trouble on the first day? I admonish myself. You are quite the miscreant, William Badboy Halpin.

Have to be careful not to look like some weirdo laughing to myself here. I do feel a bit nervous walking in that door labeled principal kroener. Even at the deaf school, we heard about Kroener. He supposedly threw a kid through a window for chewing gum. I was hoping I could get all the way to graduation without ever having to meet him. I've forgotten to put my hearing aids back on, but he doesn't notice. I can hear a little with them, but I hate them. I know I still don't hear what everyone else does, they give me intense headaches, and I hate being stared at like I have six heads. When I put them on, all eyes go straight to my ears. No one notices my dashing movie star looks or body builder's physique. Understandably.

Kroener is on a phone call and distractedly welcomes me into his office. He gestures for me to take a seat and scatters some papers as he does. I spy with my little eye a particular sheet of paper labeled "Will Halpin Individual Education Program." The fact that I require an IEP reminds me that I'm still on the banks of the mainstream. And though the sheet is upside-down from where I sit, I can make out the basics. Apparently, I'm "profoundly deaf yet intellectually capable." This yet pisses me off! It's the kind of thing some of my old classmates would have formed a protest committee over. I'm usually the type to let things slide, which maybe was why I was somewhat of an outsider even among my own peeps.

I see too that I have high marks for my ability to lip-read, and it's also noted that I'm excellent at sign language. A kiss of the hand to you. My ability to speak is listed as "adequate," which makes me smile inside, since I barely said a word to Nurse Weaver. I hardly speak at all, and I really don't like talking to people I don't know well. People have laughed at the way I talk, and I don't altogether know what the hell I'm saying. I've had a million arguments about how I should probably just get over this and be proud of my deafness, but I remain unconvinced. That kind of thinking is part of the reason I left my old school.

Kroener slams down the phone and gives me my schedule. He seems like he is actually trying to be nice. He has learned a few signs and stumbles through "Welcome to our school." He hands me a letter that basically says the same thing and a map, which I hope I will be able to figure out. "Consider me welcomed," I sign, throwing Kroener a big, only partly insincere, grin. Tall and wide, with a head shaped like a bullet, Principal Kroener tries to smile back, but it looks like it doesn't fit his face. I wave awkwardly and skedaddle.

First up, first class. I'm good with maps, probably from constantly playing video games (take that, video game critics!), so I easily find the room for American history. I'm stepping in, feeling like an astronaut on alien soil as my foot lands on the other side of the threshold. There is no time to contemplate this giant leap for Halpin-kind, however, because I am immediately overwhelmed. And it seems I'm not the only one.

The teacher, a pear-shaped, balding man whose ID badge identifies him as Mr. Arterberry, appears to be even more unsure of what to do with me. Nurse Weaver assured me that she had filled the teachers in, so they know all about my "primary mode of understanding" being lipreading and that I am "strong textually," which I assume means that I read and write well. She's right--I enjoy words. They are like music to my ears.

Mr. A. has a seat for me off in a corner of the room. This will allow me to read lips of teacher as well as students and thus benefit from the fantastic scholarly wisdom offered by both lecture and class discussion. But it also makes me feel shoved aside, sort of like a houseplant. Will someone at least remember to prune and water me?

The first thing I notice is this: public school girls are freaking hot. Nice. I try to focus on that and not on the sinking feeling that it might be way harder not to fail here than I thought. It's only been a few seconds since class started, and Arterberry apparently has already forgotten Nurse Weaver's instructions. Even though I have always been exceptionally good at lipreading (blue ribbon at Camp Arrowhead!), I need to actually see the lips. Even in the best situations, I'm likely to miss a few words in the middle of a sentence. Arterberry keeps turning around or covering his mouth with his flabby arm while writing on the board. Plus, although I realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act can't force him to get rid of his bushy lip beast, a basic sense of fashion and/or hygiene should compel him to at least trim his 'stache.

The class ends before I have any idea what era of history we were even talking about. The American Revolution or maybe the Teapot Dome scandal? At the deaf school, every teacher knows sign language, and they have these captioning systems so everything shows up as text on a screen in addition to the lecture. Have I made a terrible mistake coming here? But I got so tired of the squabbles. Are you deaf enough? Strong deaf? Weak deaf? I just wanted to hang out and relax--not have to prove so much. I simply don't have a problem with hearing people. I always ended up defending them. Which landed me here. And now I'm not so sure....

Ah, but the girls.

One specimen, a perky little type, answers so many questions that it is easy to figure out her name even through Arterberry's swath of mustache hair. "Yes, Mindy?" "Miss Spark?" "Right you are, Mindy." "Mindy, Mindy, Mindy." Deaf people are also good at reading emotion as well as content, and it is easy for me to see that Mindy Spark is already Mr. Arterberry's least favorite student.

And then there is a girl I'm pretty sure is named Leigha. Mindy says her name a few times ("Right, Leigha?" "How 'bout it, Leigha?" "Oh my God, remember, this one time  Leigha?"), so I get it. This Leigha is an unqualified beauty. Her eyes shine like steel, and her perfect face is the face in a dream you never even knew you were capable of having. Perfect. I write it down in my little notebook. MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD = LEIGHA-MIA. PERKY CHICK = MINDY SPARK PLUG. Then I write an observation about a weirdo from the bus. I don't know his name yet. Unlike Mindy, he answers no questions and spends the whole class staring at his fingers. SCUZZY GUY LOVES HIS FINGERS.

I hope this stuff will be on the test.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

This is Josh Berk’s first novel. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is a children’s services librarian at the Allentown Public Library.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
NGSandMe More than 1 year ago
Bought this book for my 12 year old for a class reading assignment. They had to have a mystery. Most of the teen mystery books are all Twlight style...NOTHING he would have been interested in OR they are pretty racey - too advanced for my liking. This sounded interesting and the reviews were good. I opened it when it came, read the first couple pages just to see what it was like. I was hooked almost immediately. I read it in two days - just couldn't put it down and was sad when it was over! The best part is now that my son is reading it we have discussions about it ALL the time!!! It is nice that two people of such different ages can get so much enjoyment out of the same thing.
Communism More than 1 year ago
lololololololol 'nuff said
RedRaven More than 1 year ago
Even those this book is considered YA (Young Adult), this older adult enjoyed it immensely. I loved the use of text messaging as a way for Will and Devon to communicate with each other and with the reader. The story moves along and has a satisfying conclusion. It has the making of a great series because I wanted to know more about what happens to Will, Devon and Ebony. I'm looking forward to reading more.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Looking for a wacky adventure? Get your hands on a copy of THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. I'll admit I was attracted by the title, thinking it sounded like a "good time" read, and I wasn't disappointed. Will Halpin is embarking on a new and sort of terrifying journey. Will is deaf and has spent his educational years attending a special school for the deaf. He has recently made the decision to enroll in public high school. In addition to his deafness, Will is a bit on the chunky side and not exactly up on the latest fashion trends, dating habits, and musical interests of mainstream high school teens. Will does his best to understand his surroundings by lip-reading the words of his teachers and classmates. He meets a fellow misfit, Devon Smiley, who knows how to finger spell, and they strike up a friendship. Together, the two pass the time observing and commenting on the various oddities of their classmates and teachers. As outsiders, they watch as star football player, Pat Chambers, hands out coveted invitations to one of his special parties. Knowing neither of them has a chance of being invited, they watch in fascination to see which privileged few receive the limited invites. The party takes a backseat in the action when the students go on a field trip to a nearby abandoned coal mine. Just as it looks like they'll be boarding the bus for the return trip to school, panic breaks out when it is reported that Pat Chambers has fallen down the mine shaft and is dead. Will and Devon decide to take on the challenge of investigating the tragic accident, and the first thing they encounter is that it probably was no accident. What follows next involves computer hacking, researching the backgrounds and habits of various teachers and students, and stumbling across a number of shocking discoveries. Can a deaf kid and a Hardy Boys fan make sense of the clues and help the police solve the mystery? THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN by Josh Berk features sarcastic humor and clever mystery elements as it reveals what it's like to try fitting in when you have a disability. Berk's characters creatively reflect high school stereotypes, making them entertaining and easy to relate to. Overall, an enjoyable read and one many teens will be interested in checking out.
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THEMAN27 More than 1 year ago
Great read for all!
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