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Mercy on These Teenage Chimps
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Mercy on These Teenage Chimps

3.5 11
by Gary Soto

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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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[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
Publishers Weekly

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.
VOYA - Carlisle Kraft Webber
For many boys, turning thirteen is a rite of passage into manhood. For Ronaldo Gonzalez, better known as Ronnie, it is a ritual of transition into chimpanzee-hood. When he looks in the mirror on his thirteenth birthday, Ronnie sees nothing but a huge growth spurt, all gangly limbs and ears that stick out. His best friend, Joey, a gifted athlete with an attitude problem, is in the same predicament. On the night that they serve a detention with Coach "Bear" Puddlefield, Joey falls in love with a gymnast named Jessica. As boys are liable to do, Joey humiliates himself in front of her in an incident involving rafters and a helium balloon, and in his disgrace, he banishes himself to life in a treetop. Now, it is up to Ronnie to find the mysterious Jessica and let her know how Joey feels. With humor and language as ungainly as a thirteen-year-old boy, Soto describes one hot, magical weekend in a working-class town. Joey and Ronnie are charming characters who always have each others' best interests at heart even if they have a difficult time communicating their feelings to outsiders. Many animal metaphors, wild peripheral characters, and the boys' constant consumption of bananas give the story a sense of magical realism and drive home the idea that these boys sometimes feel like aliens in their own bodies. The short length and snappy dialogue make it a good choice for reluctant readers.
Children's Literature - Joella Peterson
Joey has been humiliated in front of hundreds of people—Coach Bear called him a monkey at an athletic awards banquet after Joey climbed up into the rafters to get a balloon for Jessica, the girl he likes. In retaliation, Joey has climbed up into a tree, and claims that he won't come down. Ronnie (Joey's best friend) has taken it upon himself to try to get Joey down from the tree. Ronnie therefore goes around town, trying to get Coach to apologize to Joey, find Jessica, and dodge the town bullies. All the while Ronnie is trying to come to grips with the fact that he and Joey are, in fact, turning into teenagers, a.k.a. chimps (not monkeys like everyone says: "monkeys got tails, and they're not as smart"). With the constant mention of food and eating, the continuous worry about how he looks and smells, and the superhuman ability to climb up and fall off of multiple roofs without getting hurt, Ronnie does indeed remind you of a chimp. The multiple "chimps vs. humans" references will have readers wondering if this is in fact a subliminal message about Darwinism. This relatively short read will work well for those tweens who are noticing that they are growing up.
KLIATT - Ellen Welty
Thirteen-year-old Ronnie and his best friend Joey have suddenly become chimpanzees—a condition common to the young adolescent male. Their ears stick out, their noses have flattened and their arms are way too long for their legs. Not only that, they climb better than they walk. While serving refreshments at a school awards ceremony Joey is smitten with a girl who has won an award for gymnastics, inspiring him to climb to the rafters of the gymnasium to retrieve her balloon when it escapes. His heroics win a public dressing-down from the coach and in his embarrassment he decides to spend the rest of his life in a tree in his yard. It is up to Ronnie to save his friend. Gary Soto's voice is as true describing the plights and antics of teenage boys as it is describing the Chicano condition in his more serious work. The scene in which he describes the boys being sent to the faculty restroom to wash their hands before serving refreshments at the awards ceremony and, while there, spraying themselves with orange-scented air freshener is laugh-out-loud funny, but the humor is sympathetic. Ronnie successfully navigates the perils of playing Cupid, persuades the coach to apologize to Joey, handles school bullies without faltering and is transformed by the end of this easily read coming-of-age story. This book would be an excellent addition to public and school libraries serving junior high readers. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8
When friends Ronnie Gonzalez and Joey Rios turn 13, their arms suddenly seem to hang to their knees and their ears stick out. Ronnie finds himself juggling his fruit instead of eating it, and Joey is thrown off the wrestling team for hooting at his vanquished opponent. The boys agree-they've turned into chimps, just like lots of other young teens they've known. They're embarrassed by how gross they smell, how often they need to shower, and their strong interest in girls. For their simian behavior in class, the boys receive detention, and the coach puts them to work setting up the auditorium for a special assembly. There, Joey falls hard for an award-winning gymnast, and, during the ceremony, he climbs the rafters to rescue her lost balloon. When the coach berates him as she watches, he feels humiliated, runs home, climbs into the tree in his backyard, and won't come down. Ronnie tries to save his friend's reputation and gets into some adventures of his own. Mercy is a short, light novel with plenty of funny insights into what happens when puberty leaves a big banana peel in every adolescent male's path. The story is set in a Northern California town, but the messages it shares are universal.
—Walter MinkelCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This lighthearted, off-beat slice of life focuses on two (barely) teenaged boys. Narrated by 13-year-old Ronnie Gonzalez, the story revolves around his pal Joey's retreat to a tree after being humiliated in front of his first crush. Ronnie's efforts to track down the object of Joey's affection and bring the two together make up the bulk of the story that takes place over a weekend. Whether trying to help out the gruff coach from his school who is having marital problems or sympathizing with his hardworking mom, Ronnie has an engaging personality and a good heart. Without including any utterly unlikely events, Soto gives his story a touch of the fantastic that will appeal to young readers caught up in the angst of their own growing pains. The fact that both boys are Hispanic adds flavor to the tale without limiting its universal appeal. Some readers may tire of the extended comparison between teen boys and chimpanzees, but that's not to say that it doesn't have some merit. Breezy and entertaining. (Fiction. 11-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.44(d)
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"[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

Meet the Author

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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Mercy on These Teenage Chimps 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People u must read this book so stop reading this post and read it.....................why are u still reading this.............i told u 2 stop go buy this awesome book and read it an it is easy to understand bc i read this book and i had a test about this book and i got a 10 out of 10 which means i got a 100%
Maria Centeno More than 1 year ago
You should put for it to read it to you
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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.

Have mercy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a good book to read to children. I give this book 2 thumb up!