Pirates of the Retail Wastelandby Adam Selzer
Leon and his miscreant buddies from the gifted pool are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore! Their favorite downtown coffeeshop, Sip–the only survivor in the barren moonscape of decrepit Old Downtown–is in danger of being run out of business by the ubiquitous and oh-so-corporate coffee chain, Wackford’s. Wackford’s doesn’t host readings or smell funky or support the arts the way Sip does–it’s basically a glorified office. With the help of the Wackford’s manager–a self-described “McHobo” who’s worked for every chain along the strip–Leon and his friends decide to protest by taking over the Wackford’s and making it into a middle-management office. Meanwhile, Leon deals with an unwanted crush, a Mohawked father, and his friend Dustin’s ongoing quest to take down the gym teacher via depressing poems. Nothing quite goes as expected, but that’s the great thing about life in the gifted pool.
Leon and his would-be rebel friends from the 8th-grade gifted pool (first encountered in How To Get Suspended and Influence People) set out to save their favorite independent coffee house, Sip, from the encroaching coffee chain store Wackfords. Aided by the manager, a “McHobo” who has worked in every chain store around, they stage a pirate coup, setting up Wackfords as “an accounting and midlevel management strategies office” and filming patrons’ reactions for a class project. Leon, meanwhile, must also contend with his inventor father’s new formula for hair dye, which leaves his dad with a green Mohawk hairdo, and with a flirtatious friend, though his heart belongs to his classmate Anna. In addition, the gym teacher has it in for Leon, especially when one of the group starts leaving the teacher poems to try and make him depressed. Leon and his smart suburban pals are bigger on talk than action--and much more concerned with following rules than breaking them--but the clever repartee and humor will amuse junior high students. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
Gr 6-9- To document the impact of corporate change and suburban sprawl on their town, eighth-grader Leon Noside and his gifted-pool classmates stage a mutiny against a giant coffee franchise. They raise a pirate flag and change the retailer into an accounting office for a day with the help of the local staff. While recording the reactions of homemakers, hotshots, and school librarians who are being tested to see if they notice, Leon also has to face his conflicted feelings toward two of his classmates. The quirks of the authority figures will have a high appeal to teens; Leon's family members re-create awful dinners from old cookbooks and adopt matching personalities, which gives readers a chance to commiserate over weird families of all sorts. They will be disappointed in the mediocre climax of the book; the pirate theme tapers off as the students abandon the project after a low-key confrontation with an antagonistic gym teacher. Addressing similar issues as Stefan Petrucha's Teen, Inc. (Walker, 2007) but for a younger audience, this is a general purchase for medium to large collections.-Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
Read an Excerpt
There are rare times when school isn't such a bad place to be, and chief among these are the times when you're sitting on a couch with a girl's butt pressed into each of your arms.
Granted, this isn't the sort of thing that happens every day, but it was known to happen to me on Fridays during the gifted-pool meetings. At the first meeting of the second semester of my eighth-grade year, all twelve of us were piled onto the old green couch in the room above the gym, as was our usual fashion, while Mr. Streich, our fearless leader, took attendance.
I was trying to pay attention to what was going on. Or, anyway, I was trying to look like I was--but I had Anna Brandenburg's butt pressing into the lower part of my right arm and Jenny Kurosawa's butt near my left shoulder, which was somewhat distracting. It's hard to imagine a situation more preferable to math class, where I spent sixth period the other four days of the week.
Mr. Streich was at the front of the room, running his fingers across his mustache--he did that quite a lot, as though he was trying to make sure it was still there or something--and pointing his pen at odd spots on the couch, trying to figure out if we were all present. It was no small task, considering that a couple of people were buried so deep that all he could see of them was their shoes. But he took it in stride.
"Well then," he said, when he had decided we were all there, "are you guys ready to hear what the first gifted-pool project of the semester is going to be?"
The noise that came out of the couch probably just sounded like a low rumble, but most of us were saying "Sure," "Yeah," or something like that.
"Your first project . . . ," Mr. Streich said, pausing to let the suspense build, as though we were all on the edge of our seats, "will be to build . . . a monument!"
For a second, no one said a word. This wasn't the kind of announcement that would get people cheering or anything, but from the look on his face, Mr. Streich had clearly expected some kind of reaction. I figured I ought to say something before he started to feel bad. We liked Mr. Streich just about enough to try not to hurt his feelings.
"A monument?" I asked. "What kind of monument are we talking about here?"
"Well," he said, "it can be anything. You'll each pick someone or something that you think deserves a monument, and build the monument yourself. Then you'll present it at an assembly, as usual."
This didn't sound much different than the project from the previous semester where we had to dress up like some notable person from history and give a speech about their life--most of the projects were something along this line. The school was careful not to give us projects that might lead us to blow anything up or incite any riots; even the "dressing up as a notable person from history" assignment had led to a veritable spree of cross-dressing. Dustin Eddle-beck had only been stopped from dressing as Sally Rand, a notable stripper who used to dance wearing nothing but a large fan, at the last second by some chumps from the school board.
I'm not exactly sure how they came to decide that those of us in the pool were "gifted." You normally think of the gifted kids as the ones who tuck their shirts into their underwear and spend their free time talking to their plants about algebra. At my school, it was mostly a bunch of miscreants--commies, perverts, and pyros who happened to score well on standardized tests.
"How about a gravestone?" asked James Cole, who spoke fluent French and was the first kid in school to smoke pot. "Would that be considered a monument?"
"Well," said Mr. Streich, "maybe you could make a gravestone for someone who didn't have one, and try to have it actually put up where they're buried! I've heard of people doing that for old blues singers who were just dumped under a plywood marker someplace."
"Actually," said James, "I was thinking about one for Coach Hunter."
Coach Hunter was the gym teacher, and James Cole's natural enemy. If anyone ever makes one of those public television nature documentaries about potheads, it'll probably have a scene of them pricking up their ears and getting scared when they hear a whistle blowing in the distance.
"Coach Hunter isn't dead," Mr. Streich pointed out, as if we didn't already know that.
"I know," said James. "I was thinking we would have to kill him as part of the project."
We all laughed, and Mr. Streich tried to calm us down, though I could see that he was trying not to smile. "I don't think he'd be very keen on that, James."
"Well," I said, "you're supposed to be challenging us to use our gifted intellects, right? Why not challenge us to spend the semester convincing Coach Hunter that life isn't worth living anymore? That way, we wouldn't have to kill him ourselves."
"Heck," said James. "It probably won't even take that long. I start thinking life isn't worth living after about five minutes in his class."
"We could learn a lot about psychology," said Edie Scaduto, the school communist.
"You guys, be serious for a minute," said Mr. Streich. "You know I can't let you kill anybody, and I certainly can't let you try to convince anybody to kill themselves, because if I could, I would have assigned you to take out my mother-in-law by now." He paused for us to laugh, which we did, a little. It might have been funnier if he were married in the first place. "If you want to make a monument like the Tomb of the Unknown Gym Coach, that might be okay. Just be careful."
Meet the Author
Adam Selzer lives in downtown Chicago. In addition to his work as a tour guide and assistant ghost-buster (really), he moonlights as a rock star. Check him out on the Web at www.adamselzer.com.
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Loving it currently reading reccomeded
Leon and his friends have a problem.
Just as they are assigned to come up with a monument for their gifted pool group, they learn a terrible truth. Their favorite coffee shop, Sip, could be going out of business.
Sip has been struggling against its big corporate competitor, Wackfords, another coffee chain downtown, and it's quickly losing the battle.
Leon and his friends don't like this and decide to take matters into their own hands. With some help from the Wackfords manager (who is surprisingly like Leon and his friends) they form a plan to save Sip.
However, you know what they say about even the best laid plans....
This book is smart and very, very funny. Readers will love going through this fight with Leon and find him as easy to relate to as a best friend.