"[A] lighthearted, off-beat slice of life . . . Breezy and entertaining."--Kirkus Reviews
"This rollicking novel about the painful beginnings of adolescence should have wide appeal."--The Horn Book
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On his thirteenth birthday, Ronnie woke up feeling like a chimp--all long armed, big eared, and gangly. He's been muddling through each gawky day since. Now his best friend, Joey, has turned thirteen, too--and after Joey humiliates himself in front of a cute girl, he climbs a tree and refuses to come down. So Ronnie sets out to woo the girl on Joey's behalf.
On his thirteenth birthday, Ronnie woke up feeling like a chimp--all long armed, big eared, and gangly. He's been muddling through each gawky day since. Now his best friend, Joey, has turned thirteen, too--and after Joey humiliates himself in front of a cute girl, he climbs a tree and refuses to come down. So Ronnie sets out to woo the girl on Joey's behalf. After all, teenage chimps have to stick together.
Acclaimed author Gary Soto tells a fun and touching story about friendship, understanding, and the painful insecurities of being thirteen.
Soto (Accidental Love) offers a send-up of adolescence in this intermittently amusing yet rather repetitious saga narrated by a boy who, on his 13th birthday, "woke up as a chimpanzee." Ronnie suddenly notices that his ears are splayed, his nose appears "flatter than ever," and his chin sports "peachy fuzz." Not only that, but he notices, "my gait seemed wider and was sort of rolling and [my arms] were hanging so low at my side that I could tie my shoes without bending over." His best friend, Joey, exhibits the same "teenage chimp" symptoms and takes to beating his chest and jumping up and down. The monkey metaphors come fast and furiously: at a sports awards ceremony, Joey climbs up into the rafters of the gym to rescue a balloon belonging to Jessica, a cute girl who has caught his eye (a coach bellows, "What do you think you are? A monkey?"). Mortified, Joey takes up residence in a tree in his yard. Ronnie then attempts to convince the coach to apologize to his tree-bound pal and also to play Cupid between Joey and Jessica (and between the coach and his estranged wife). He encounters some obstacles, but eventually succeeds. Despite a surfeit of overblown primate-related quips, Soto shapes sympathetic young characters and pulls off some comical hyperbole while imparting a worthy message about self-acceptance. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
I, Ronaldo Gonzalez, better known as Ronnie, was like any other boy until I turned thirteen and woke up as a chimpanzee. I examined my reflection in the bathroom mirror. What was this? The peachy fuzz on my chin? The splayed ears? The wide grin that revealed huge teeth? I played with my mouth, squeezing it as I had seen the chimpanzees do on Animal Planet, my favorite TV channel. I wiggled my ears. My nose appeared flatter than ever.
Mom noticed the change right away. Instead of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast, my usual morning pick-me-up, I had a bowl of Froot Loops and a banana, but not before I juggled three apples and a single orange. I seemed to have been charged with an uncanny ability to keep things in the air.
“What’s gotten into you?” She laughed. “You should be in the circus!”
“It’s my birthday,” I answered. I was glad that I had been born in spring. Spring was when the mountains appeared majestically in the distance and retirees got out their mowers to clobber the first dandelions sprouting on their lawns. Spring was when birds and flowers did their magic of lifting the souls of regular people.
I could see Mom registering in her mind that I was no longer a kid. She pulled at my cheek tenderly and told me that I was a young man and that soon she would lose me to some trashy girl. Of course, I promised never to move away and that the trashy girl could come live with us.
Mom playfully spanked my bottom thirteen times, my new age, and then asked me if I had hurt my leg. She had noticed that my gait seemed wider and was sort of rolling. She also inquired about my arms. They were hanging so low at my side that I could tie my shoes without bending over.
“Nah, Mom,” I answered. “I’m okay.”
That morning I felt curiously different, and even older when Mom let me sit at the head of the kitchen table—ever since Dad had taken off, his place usually held piles of clean laundry. And that’s what I did that morning. I accepted my position as head of the table, whipping out the newspaper and muttering to myself that the San Francisco Giants were already four behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I was suddenly a teenage chimp. My best friend, Joey Rios, a few days older than me, had also turned into a chimp. For years we had been just like other boys—muddy, with scabs on our knees and elbows—until we both had growth spurts. Our arms, it seemed, hung a few inches longer and our ears sprung out from the sides of our heads. We caught ourselves beating our chests and jumping, especially Joey, who was a wrestler. Each time he pinned an opponent he’d jump up and down and circle the mat, pacing off his territory. He just couldn’t help himself.
And how we could climb! Joey and I often scaled the tall tree in front of his house, where we sat for hours. Most of our talk involved girls and food. We avoided talking about our looks, as we were doubtful that we were handsome. Indeed, I sometimes played a refrain in my mind: We ugly, we real ugly.
“Do you know the meaning of life?” On my birthday I’d asked Joey this question thirty feet up, with a chimp’s view of our small-town neighborhood.
“Not a bit,” Joey answered. He pursed his lips, spat at the ground, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Except I know spit takes three seconds to hit my cat.”
His cat looked around, mystified by the sudden presence of rain.
“Do you think any girls will like us?”
Joey didn’t answer. He just spat again, and again his cat, none too smart, looked around until a sparrow caught his attention. He pranced after the sparrow, who, blessed with keen sight and swift wings, lifted up and away.
A week later we were policing our school for the usual litter of potato chip bags, candy wrappers, and soda cups. We had detention for being tardy—on the way to school, we had stopped to swing on the monkey bars at the public playground.
“This is way nasty,” I groaned, wincing at the sight of a swollen hot dog. I poked it with a stick and deposited it in a plastic trash bag. It was a sickening sight. We were non-meat eaters, devoted vegetarians who loved fruits and veggies, plus what my mom called “monkey juice,” the fruity smoothies I concocted in the blender.
“Who’s this?” Joey held up a photo he had found on the ground.
We studied the photo, our heads nearly touching.
“She’s pretty,” I said longingly. Then, We ugly, we real ugly, repeated in my mind. The pang was like a fishhook in my heart.
Joey dropped the photo into his trash bag, and we continued with our task until we saw, in the distance, Coach Puddlefield approaching. Every dozen or so steps he slowed to hike up his pants—he was a big man whose stomach cast a shadow in front of him. Behind his back, we students called him Coach Bear. He was way hairy and growled a lot.
Coach Bear chugged across the lawn. “You two monkeys,” he bellowed. “I got a job for you.”
The last time Coach Bear had required our service was to put all the balls away in the gymnasium. Joey, an occasional show-off, had spotted a volleyball in the rafters. He spat into his hands and climbed the bleachers, pushed himself up on the window ledge, grabbed and swung from the exercise rope, shimmied up the rope, and boosted himself up onto an iron girder. Then his fingers tickled the ball from where it was caught behind the rafter. Coach had yelled at him for risking his neck, but Joey was just doing what any chimp would have done.
Now it seemed that Coach Bear required our services again. He halted in front of us, giving his pants one final tug. He wiped his brow with a thick finger.
“We’re already doing something, Coach,” Joey explained.
“And what is that, exactly?”
“Picking up litter,” I said, jiggling the contents of the plastic trash bag. “We have detention.”
Coach Bear sniffed. “You guys been eating hot dogs?”
“No, sir,” Joey answered.
“We’re vegetarians,” I divulged. I had studied the diets and life spans of carnivores and noncarnivores, and was prepared to offer a litany of reasons why a person, young or old, skinny or fat, boy or girl, should avoid meat like the plague. “Vegetarians! No wonder you boys are so skinny. Not you, Rios.” Coach Bear corrected himself, as he was proud of Joey, the wrestler. Joey was anything but a weakling. The previous year he had captured the regional championship, and Coach had a soft spot for champions. Then his eyes slid over to me, and he held his tongue, which was muscled from yelling at kids for a dozen or so years. “Anyhow, I’m here to ask if you guys could help out with a banquet tonight. I need two more kids, and if you do it you can quit the trash pickup.” He told us that the regional sports awards banquet would be held at the high school down the street.
Joey turned to me. I wiggled my ears as an affirmative yes.
“What are we supposed to wear?” Joey asked.
Coach Bear scratched his forehead thoughtfully. “A clean white shirt.”
Joey, biting his lower lip, hesitated and asked, “Do we wear pants?”
Coach Bear beaded his eyes at Joey, who released a smile. “Just kidding, Coach.”
Coach Bear instructed us to get there by five thirty, hiked up his pants as he turned, and sized up trouble on another part of the school grounds. He waved a paw at two kids trying to shimmy up a drainpipe.
“You knuckleheads,” he roared. “Get off of there!”
I knew the culprits. I poked at a candy wrapper and mused how in a year, two years at most, those boys would wake up as chimpanzees.
It was just a matter of time.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Soto
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Gary Soto's first book for young readers, Baseball in April and Other Stories, won the California Library Association's Beatty Award and was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. He has since published many novels, short stories, plays, and poetry collections for adults and young people. He lives in Berkeley, California. Visit his website at www.garysoto.com.
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You should put for it to read it to you
How many books capture the angst of the teenage girl--her changing body, her constant mood swings, her unpredictable complexion and her yearning for attention from the boy of her dreams? Hundreds? Thousands?
Now, how many books take the opposite point of view--how many books go into the mind of the teenage boy and capture his frustration with his seemingly disproportionate body? His struggles to understand the "crooked road" that is life(p. 123)? And, of course, the blush of first love--unrequited, but first, nevertheless. As any reader of young adult fiction knows, books unabashedly delving into the struggles of life as a teenage boy don't come along often.
Author Gary Soto examines the everyday life of the adolescent male in MERCY ON THESE TEENAGE CHIMPS. According to newly-teenaged Ronnie, the transformation from boy to chimp begins on one's thirteenth birthday: "I
examined my reflection in the bathroom mirror. What was this? The peachy fuzz on my chin? The splayed ears? The wide grin that revealed huge teeth? ... I wiggled my ears. My nose appeared flatter than ever" (p. 1). And, so begins this inevitable leg of the transformation from boy to man.
The most intriguing aspect of this story is the sensitivity Soto explores in the characters of Ronnie and his best friend, Joey. Too often in our society, boys are taught that they are required to lose--or, at minimum, hide--their sensitivity, lest they be considered less of a man as they mature. Throughout the story, the reader is privy to Ronnie's innermost thoughts and fears, some of which he shares with Joey: "Do you think any girls will like us?" (p. 4) is one question met with silence from his best friend--well, silence and Joey's attempt to spit on his cat. Still, such raw honesty between males is eye-opening, refreshing, and too rarely conveyed in young adult literature.
At times, the constant stream of chimpanzee references become a bit grating, but the honesty of the characters trumps this particular negative. Soto's MERCY ON THESE TEENAGE CHIMPS works, for male and female readers alike, comforting adolescent males and assuring females that, yes, the boys have the same awkward, frightening fears as the girls, whether they are open about their feelings or not.
This book is a good book to read to children. I give this book 2 thumb up!