Smiles to Go
  • Smiles to Go
  • Smiles to Go

Smiles to Go

4.0 105
by Jerry Spinelli

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Ninth grader Will Tuppence is in control.

He plans everything obsessively, from the perfect stargazing night with his crush, Mi-Su, to the regular Saturday-night games of Monopoly with his friends. He's even planned his entire adulthood: career as an astronomer; mint condition, black 1985 Jaguar XJS/12; two kids. . . .

But everything changes the day

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Ninth grader Will Tuppence is in control.

He plans everything obsessively, from the perfect stargazing night with his crush, Mi-Su, to the regular Saturday-night games of Monopoly with his friends. He's even planned his entire adulthood: career as an astronomer; mint condition, black 1985 Jaguar XJS/12; two kids. . . .

But everything changes the day Will learns one startling fact: protons—those tiny atomic particles, the building blocks to the building blocks of life—can die. The one thing that was so certain in this world to Will has an expiration date.

And Will's carefully planned-out life?

Not so certain, either.

Editorial Reviews

ALA Booklist
“Spinelli employs a fresh voice and honest perspective to mine the prickly intersections of family, friendship, and growing up, with emotionally resonant results.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“Middle school boys and girls, as well as the reluctant reader, will enjoy this fun and easy read.”
Publishers Weekly

Reviewed by Gennifer Choldenko

Like the work of Sid Fleischman and the late Paula Danziger, a Jerry Spinelli novel makes me wish I could carry a Spinelli voice around in my head for the truly awful moments of my life: a trip to the emergency room or a run-in with a rabid police officer. Spinelli's voice is artful, amusing and, above all else, reassuring. There's no doubt Spinelli is a consummate pro. The first page confirms this with spot-on character description: "He always had a jawbreaker in his mouth, and when he wasn't clacking it against his teeth he kept up a constant mutter about everything he did, as if he were a play-by-play announcer describing a game."

The protagonist is the obsessive plan-making, star-gazing, chess-playing ninth-grader Will Tuppence, who has worked out a 12-point plan for himself clear through to the afterlife. Will is solidly characterized through voice, as in the epitaph he imagines on his tombstone-"Here lies Will Tuppence. He Could Wait"-and his wonderful descriptions of his own experience: "The storm inside me had passed. Just dry husks of thought left on the ground." Even so, it's the girls who really shine in this loosely contemporary novel. Like Stargirl in Spinelli's winning novel of the same name, Will's love interest Mi-Su is completely and totally original, and Will's palpable longing for her is altogether real: "It came to me during biology lab today. She was at another table, leaning over her fetal pig, and I couldn't stop staring at her." Mi-Su's baffling reactions to Will and to his best friend, BT, form the heart of this story, engaging the reader with a surprisingly fresh perspective on young love.

Comic reliefis provided by Tabby, Will's five-year-old sister, and her persistent but unrequited suitor, the five-year-old, orange-plastic-fish-mobile-riding Korbet Finn. One of the funniest scenes in the book occurs when Will consults Korbet on questions of love and the pursuit of one's romantic interest. The climax pulls Tabby into the fray and, perhaps a little too conveniently, resolves the love triangle among Will and BT and Mi-Su. Still, what makes a Spinelli novel isn't plotting so much as character, dialogue, voice and humor. The Spinelli touch remains true in this funny and thoroughly enjoyable read.

Gennifer Choldenko won a Newbery Honor for Al Capone Does My Shirts, the first of a projected trilogy. Her second Alcatraz novel is due in 2009 from Harcourt, while her most recent novel is If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period (Harcourt, 2007).

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Sylvia Firth
This reviewer had an Advance Reader's Edition of the latest offering from the author of such well known titles as Newberry Medal winner, Maniac Magee, Space Station Seventh Grade and Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?. Ninth-grader Will Tuppence is the main character in this tale of a boy with many interests that range from skateboarding to chess to stargazing. He has a much younger sister named Tabby who is truly a thorn in his side and generally makes his life difficult. His two best friends, with whom he plays Monopoly every Saturday night, are Anthony Bontempo, known as BT, and Mi-Su. Will loves pepperoni pizza, science class and, usually, his life. Though now he is really upset because it has lately been proved that protons do die and that makes him worry about the fate of the universe. With great humor and understanding, Spinelli portrays the ups and downs of a young teenager's life as he comes to grips with growing up. The most serious issues are facing the trauma of Tabby's serious accident while using his treasured skateboard and his changing feelings for Mi-Su. Young fans are sure to welcome this latest book from a popular author, and it should be considered as a first purchase. Reviewer: Sylvia Firth
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Sensible Will, a chess champ and would-be astronomer, plays Monopoly with his best friends BT and Mi-Su every Saturday night, while his little sister Tabby successfully works at getting on his nerves. But change is in the wind: he starts to realize he has a crush on Mi-Su and tries to work up strategies to kiss her. And when free-spirited BT manages a skateboard run down Dead Man's Hill, Tabby comes up with a new way to capture Will's attention: she tries it too, with tragic consequences. Will finds out what, and who, he really cares about when he learns about her accident. Spinelli, the accomplished author of Maniac Magee and many other books for YAs, has a knack for creating offbeat characters readers will root for, and all the characters in this novel will win your heart. What at first seems like a love story between Will and Mi-Su turns into something different as Will realizes the depth of his feelings for his sister. A deeply affecting story. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
Pam B. Cole
Ninth-grader Will Tuppence loves science, skateboarding, stargazing, and chess. He is obsessed with proton decay, the afterlife, and other mysteries of the universe—and frustrated with his mischief-making younger sister, Tabby. Will is caught up in a love triangle with his two best friends Mi-Su and BT and much of the story revolves around Will's feelings of unrequited love for Mi-Su. A parallel love story plays out between five-year-old Korbet Finn, a next-door neighbor madly in love with Tabby. Tabby rejects Korbet, but Korbet remains persistent. The plot turns on a tragic event that forces Will to ponder solipsism—the belief that the self is the only reality. Spinelli hits another home run with sidesplitting humor, spot-on characterization, and exceptional voice. Philosophical and scientific questions abound: What happens to matter if protons die? Will everything disappear? What about infinity? Does stuff become nonstuff? Is heaven a dimension? Superb choice for the science and mathematics classrooms. Reviewer: Pam B. Cole
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10- Will Tuppence is a sensible kid, good at science, with an average social life and a loud-mouthed little sister, Tabby, whom he does his very best to avoid. But when he learns that scientists have recorded the first instance of proton decay, his logical mind goes into free fall contemplating the implications. When, soon after, he catches his friends Mi-Su and BT kissing, his confusion skyrockets. Does he like Mi-Su himself? Would Mi-Su kiss him? Does it even matter now that all protons in the universe are impermanent? But the point of the story is not proton decay; nor is it the uncertainty that the phenomenon represents-as manifested in Will's life via the love triangle. The story ultimately hinges on Tabby, and Will's relationship with her. Events transpire to remind him of its centrality, around which his daily life and his very identity orbit. With narrative that is fast moving and often laugh-out-loud funny, this book would make an excellent addition to any collection. Short sentences and brief chapters make it a good pick for even reluctant readers. Spinelli lives up to his well-established precedent of stories full of warmth, humor, and memorable characters. Tabby, though at times slightly unbelievable in her precociousness, is a comical and endearing creation. Will's teenage insecurities, overanalyzing, and mood swings are entirely believable, and readers empathize fully with him while willing him to step outside himself and look around at what he has.-Emma Runyan, The Winsor School, Boston, MA

Kirkus Reviews
It all starts with the death of a proton. When budding astronomer Will Tuppence learns a proton was observed in the act of disintegration, his stable world tilts. If he can't even trust in the permanence of atoms, how is he supposed to manage the more tangible but no less overwhelming obstacles in his life? Like his confusing relationship with best friend Mi-Su, which seems to be taking a romantic turn, or his ongoing battles with his kindergarten sister Tabby (a memorable creation who could be the love child of Beverly Cleary's Ramona and Judy Blume's Fudge). There are also the small matters of defending his local chess title and planning the perfect date with Mi-Su. A tragic accident helps Will understand that life and first kisses can't always be scheduled, and sometimes it's better that way. Another solid, feel-good offering from Spinelli that takes big themes about love and the meaning of life and cuts them down to kid-size with finely tuned characterizations and humorous dialogue. Stargirl would approve. (Fiction. 11-14)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Smiles to Go

Chapter One


When I was five or six a high-school kid lived next door. His name was Jim. He was a science nut. He won the county science fair two years in a row and went on to MIT. I think he works for NASA now.

Jim was always tinkering in his basement. I was welcome, encouraged even, to join him whenever I liked. I would sit on a high stool for hours and just watch him. I think he enjoyed having a dedicated audience of one.

Jim built his own shortwave radio that we both listened to. He practically swooned when he heard scratchy voices from the South Pacific, but I was too young to be amazed. He always had a jawbreaker in his mouth, and when he wasn't clacking it against his teeth he kept up a constant mutter about everything he did, as if he were a play-by-play announcer describing a game. "And now Jim is soldering the wire to the whatsits. . . ."

More than anything I looked forward to Jim saying, "Whoa!" That's what he said when something surprised or astounded him. It didn't happen often, maybe only one or two "Whoas!" a week on average. When I heard one I would jump down from my stool and nose right in and say, "What, Jim?" And he would explain it to me, and though I couldn't really understand, still I would feel something, a cool fizzing behind my ears, because I was feeding off his astonishment.

Then one day I had the real thing, an amazement of my own. That day was a little strange to begin with, because when I came down to the basement, Jim wasn't tinkering—he was reading. Watching a person read isn't the most fascinating thing in the world, even if he has a jawbreakerclacking around in his mouth, and after a minute of that I was ready to leave when Jim barked out a "Whoa!" I jumped down and said my usual, "What, Jim?" but he only warded me off with his hand and kept on reading. Every minute or so another "Whoa!" came out, each one louder than the last. Then came three in a row: "Whoa! Whoa! Wwwhoa!"

"Jim! What!" I screeched and snatched the book away.

He looked at me as if he didn't know me. Young as I was, I understood that he was still back in the book, immersed in his amazement.

Finally he said it, one word: "Protons." I had heard people say "amen" in that tone of voice.

"What are protons?" I said.

He took the book from my hands. His eyes returned to the present. He began talking, explaining. He talked about atoms first, the tiny building blocks of everything, smaller than molecules, smaller than specks. "So small," he said, "millions can fit in a flea's eye." That got my attention.

One of the most amazing things about atoms, he said, is that, tiny as they are, they are mostly empty space. That made no sense to me. Empty space was nothing. How could a "something" be nothing? He knocked on his stool seat. "Empty space." I knocked the stool seat. Empty space? Then why did it stop my hand?

He said atoms are kind of like miniature solar systems. Instead of planets circling the sun, electrons circle a nugget of protons. Then he zeroed in on protons. Atoms may be mostly space, he said, but a proton is nothing but a proton. Small as an atom is, a proton is millions of times smaller. "You could squint till your eyeballs pop out and you'll never see one," he said, daring me to try.

"And you know what the coolest thing about protons is?" he said.

"What?" I said.

He clacked his jawbreaker for a while, building the suspense. "You can't do anything to them," he said. "You can't break them. You can't burn them. You can't blow them up. Atoms you can smash, but you can't smash a proton."

"Not even with a steamroller?" I said.

"Not even with a thousand steamrollers."

And then he hammered home his point. He took out the jawbreaker and put it on the floor. He took a hammer and smashed it to smithereens. He didn't stop there. He kept smashing until there was nothing but white powder. When he stopped, he grinned at me. "Go ahead, stomp on it." I brought the heel of my shoe down on the tiny pile of powder. "Oh, come on, don't be such a wuss," he said. "Stomp good." I did. I jumped up and down until there was nothing on the floor but a pale mist of dust. He got down on his hands and knees and blew it away.

I cheered. "We did it!"

He stood. "What did we do?" he said.

"We smashed the jawbreaker. We made it disappear."

"We sure did," he said. "But what about the protons that made up the jawbreaker? Where are they?"

I looked around. "Gone?"

He shook his head with a sly smile. "Nope," he said. "The jawbreaker is gone, but not its protons. They're still"—he waved his hand about the basement—"here. They'll always be here. They're unsmashable. Once a proton, always a proton. Protons are forever."

The next words just popped from my mouth, no real thought behind them: "Jawbreakers are lucky."

He poked me. "Hey, so are you. You're made ofprotons, too."

I stared at him. "I am?"

"Sure," he said. "Zillions of them. The protons in you are the same as the protons in that jawbreaker. And in that stool. And in a banana. And a sock monkey. And a glass of water. And a star. Everything"—he threw out his arms—"everything is made of protons!"

I was getting woozy with information overload. Me and sock monkeys made of the same stuff? It was too much to digest. So I retreated to the one conclusion I had managed to extract from all this. "So . . . Jim . . . like, I'm unsmashable?"

Smiles to Go. Copyright ? by Jerry Spinelli. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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