Stoner and Spaz

Stoner and Spaz

4.3 57
by Ron Koertge

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A funny, in-your-face novel starring an unlikely teenage pair - a sheltered cinemaphile with cerebral palsy and the tattooed, straight-talking stoner who steals his heart.

For sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft - a kid with cerebral palsy, no parents, and an overprotective grandmother - the closest thing to happiness is hunkering alone in the back of the Rialto

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A funny, in-your-face novel starring an unlikely teenage pair - a sheltered cinemaphile with cerebral palsy and the tattooed, straight-talking stoner who steals his heart.

For sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft - a kid with cerebral palsy, no parents, and an overprotective grandmother - the closest thing to happiness is hunkering alone in the back of the Rialto Theatre watching Bride of Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. Of course he waits for the lights to dim before making an entrance, so that his own lurching down the aisle doesn’t look like an ad for Monster Week. The last person he wants to run into is drugged-up Colleen Minou, resplendent in ripped tights, neon miniskirt, and an impressive array of tattoos. But when Colleen climbs into the seat beside him and rests a woozy head on his shoulder, Ben has that unmistakable feeling that his life is about to change.

With unsparing humor and a keen flair for dialogue, Ron Koertge captures the rare repartee between two lonely teenagers on opposite sides of the social divide. It’s the tale of a self-deprecating protagonist who learns that kindred spirits can be found for the looking - and that the incentive to follow your passion can be set into motion by something as simple as a human touch.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I like this book a lot, and I LOVE Ben. We need all the truth we can handle about kids like Ben and Colleen, and Ron Koertge’s writing feels deeply, sometimes painfully, true," - Terry Trueman, author of STUCK IN NEUTRAL, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2000

Publishers Weekly
With a youthful edge to his voice, Hamilton brings a rich credibility to the roles of teenagers Ben and Colleen, stars of Koertge's sharp and emotionally moving YA novel. As two very different kinds of outcasts, drug-addicted Colleen and cerebral palsy-afflicted Ben forge an unlikely friendship that helps each of them blossom. And in the author's true-to-life style, setbacks, successes and uncharted territory await the duo on the path of self-discovery. Hamilton handily masters Koertge's smart, contemporary repartee between the protagonists, capturing each note of sarcasm and humor as well as lots of film and pop-culture references. Hamilton also adds welcome shades of color to supporting characters, including Ben's stuffy, overprotective grandmother. This winning performance, which envisions Ben and Colleen as likable and sympathetic-warts and all-will please fans of Koertge's work and surely gain him new admirers. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
"Stoner" is Colleen Minou¾drug addict, whore, willing when she's high to do anything and to "do" anyone. "Spaz" is Ben Bancroft¾lonely, brainy kid with cerebral palsy who lives with his proper, over-protective grandmother and loses himself in the world of other people's movies. The in-real-life-unlikely but in-fiction-inevitable friendship between these two starkly defined opposites leads to a transformation in Ben's life, as Colleen challenges Ben's self-pity by joking openly and crudely about his disability and urges him to follow his passion for the cinema and make his own movies. The new neighbor across the street from Ben's grandma just happens to be involved in movie-making herself, and she teaches Ben all he needs to know to make an award-winning documentary of life in his own high school. This novel manages to be both self-consciously edgy (Ben smokes marijuana with Colleen, has sex using a condom, and hears Colleen repeatedly tell him such things as "You're this fucking loser who limps") and somewhat too sweet¾Colleen is a whore with a heart of gold. All the kids at school, even including Colleen's menacing pimp/pusher boyfriend, come to like and respect Ben once he comes out of his self-imposed shell. And even though Colleen's efforts to beat her drug addiction fail (the author's attempt to resist a completely happy ending,) this conveniently frees Ben to pursue the much more suitable, fellow-moviemaker Amy. 2002, Candlewick,
— Claudia Mills
This novel is a good book for teens. All of the characters and situations were very realistic. The high school seemed like a place that you actually might attend. It's a fast, interesting read that probably would be a good book for kids who don't like reading very much. The ending of the story was good because it was right in between a happy or predictable one and a devastating one, which made it satisfying. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Candlewick, 176p,
— John Darby, Teen Reviewer
Ben, age 16, is so embarrassed by his cerebral palsy that he spends much of his time hiding out alone in the dark of a movie theater—until he runs into a classmate named Colleen there, a pale, tattooed, blunt-spoken druggie with her own demons to escape. A tentative friendship develops and grows into something more as Colleen draws Ben out of his shell, away from the overprotective grandmother who is raising him, and tries to get herself clean of drugs. At the same time, a new neighbor offers Ben the opportunity to make his own movies, and he interviews fellow students for a film he calls High School Confidential. In the end, their trajectories are clear—Colleen sinks back into her thrill-seeking, self-destructive ways, while Ben's film gets a showing at a gallery, and an admirer plants the idea of film school. The dialogue is what really makes this tale of an odd couple stand out. Koertge, the author of The Brimstone Journals and other YA novels, writes witty repartee that can also stab the heart, and he succeeds in conveying realistically what life is like for these two lonely teenagers struggling to overcome obstacles. (The sex, drugs, and obscenities here are realistic, too.) In a way that few YA authors manage, Koertge describes the often-harsh world of teenagers accurately and unsentimentally. Ben's journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance, told in his wry voice, is sad and funny, convincing and affecting. KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2002, Candlewick, 176p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Author Ron Koertge takes on the difficult teen topics without flinching, and the audio version of this dramatic story (Candlewick, 2002) is just as good as the print version. Flinching is a key theme in this book, as Ben Bancroft, the main character, lets us know that as a person with cerebral palsy, no one has ever looked at him directly without flinching, let alone actually touched him. Ben shies away from confronting his over-protective grandmother, from actively confronting the suicide of his father and his abandonment by his mother, and from truly relating to anyone in his high school. In spite of all this, he is a very together young man, living vicariously through old movies until he has a close encounter with Colleen Minou, one of his school's most whacked-out druggies. Surprisingly, it is Colleen who won't flinch, who actually touches Ben in every possible way, who encourages him in his filmmaking, and lets him help her-at least temporarily-into sobriety. Narrator Josh Hamilton gives a perfect voice to Ben and also manages through modulations of his tone and pitch to convincingly portray the grandmother, Colleen, and a neighbor who aids in the filmmaking plot line. By the end, Colleen and Ben are once again on opposite sides of many questions, but Ben has changed dramatically and we can hope for something better for Colleen in the future. Listeners will find this story riveting. The concerns of real teens come through in vivid dialogue and film-shot narratives. The sensitive topic of sexuality makes this a book for older teen readers, and it deserves a place in any collection that serves them.-Jane P. Fenn, Corning-Painted Post West High School, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Nobody talks about my disability. Nobody ever makes a joke about it. They talk toward me and pretend I'm like everybody else. Better, actually. Brave and strong. A plucky lad." So complains narrator 16-year-old Ben Bancroft, who limps and has a shriveled arm from cerebral palsy. When he starts hanging out with drug addict Colleen Minou, he finally feels like someone is looking past his disability. She calls him the names he calls himself, like "spaz," and she cuts him no slack. He doesn't object that she has a boyfriend, he's so happy to be noticed and have physical contact with a girl. Until meeting Colleen, Ben conformed to the expectations of his rigid, but caring, aristocratic grandmother: study hard, attend cultural events, dress in preppy clothes, plan to attend business school. His only real passion was watching and analyzing movies. After Colleen nudges him out of living vicariously, Ben further expands by interviewing his fellow students to make a movie. In the process, he learns that others see him as arrogant and alone by choice. Koertge (The Brimstone Journals, 2001, etc.) convincingly captures high-school life, where sex and drugs are everyday matters, and conversations frequently include obscenities. Ben's voice and his conversations with Colleen sparkle with wit much like the dialogue in a Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn movie, which is fitting in view of Ben's many references to films. No fairy-tale ending crowns his relationship with Colleen, but Ben has ample reason to be hopeful about his future at the end of this insightful, engaging novel. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)
490L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

For a couple of days I don't see Colleen. Which disappoints me. Which reminds me of why I am what I am: a bit player in the movie of life. Listed at the tag end of the credits: Crippled Kid. Before Thug #1 but after Handsome Man in Copy Shop.
Then my phone rings and I lunge for it. It has to be her. Nobody calls me. I mean that. Nobody. My answering machine probably has cobwebs in it.
Without saying hello or anything, she asks, "I was talking to some kids at school about you. What happened to your mom?"
I fall back on the bed, relieved and excited. "Nobody knows. She just split." I roll onto my side. "Turn on AMC. Check out how John Ford shoots this scene so it looks like John Wayne is about a hundred feet tall."
As I watch, I hear the raspy sound of a Bic lighter, then her quick intake of breath. "I thought John Wayne actually was a hundred feet tall."
"The Searchers is still really popular. Do you know the story? Ethan totally devotes his life to finding this niece of his that the Comanches kidnapped. I guess most people like the idea of somebody who'll just look for them and look for them and never give up no matter how long it takes."
"My father disappeared, too."
"Like about a second after I was born, I guess. Even John Wayne couldn't find that son of a bitch."
"You don't want to go look for him ever?"
"No way. Do you want to find your mom?"
"Sometimes. Around the holidays, usually. When it's just Grandma and me and a turkey as big as a VW."
"Do you know Ms. Johnson?"
"The sociology teacher?"
"And resident feminist. She says sometimes women split because they have to. She says sometimes they have to be true to themselves."
"So it's not always because some kid is dragging his foot around the house?" That's when Grandma knocks softly on my half-open door. I turn my back on her and whisper into the phone, "Looks like I better go."
Colleen whispers back, "Me, too, if I want to keep up with my regimen of self-destructive behavior."
Grandma leads me into the living room. This is never a good sign. "I hope I didn't disturb you, Benjamin."
"That's okay. I was just talking to a, uh, friend."
"How nice!"
I can almost see the exclamation point, and it means she's surprised I have a friend. I'm not getting into that.
"Did you want to talk to me?"
"Yes, I spoke to the new neighbor this morning. She seems very pleasant, and I thought it would be a nice gesture if we invited her for brunch." She holds out an envelope, one of her ritzy cream-colored ones. "It's a bit on the short-notice side, but I've got leukemia next week, then UNICEF, and before you know it the whole Tournament of Roses thing begins in earnest. Our phone number's right at the bottom in case she isn't home, but I believe she is."
"You want me to take this over now?"
"It's barely dark. I don't think she'd be alarmed." Then she looks down at my sweats, the ones she sends to the cleaners.
In old-fashioned cartoons there are always rich women looking at things through these glasses-on-a-stick. That is my grandma. She pretty much looks at everything like she has glasses-on-a-stick. Including me. Especially me.
"Would you mind changing, dear, since you're going to go out-of-doors?"
For somebody with C.P., changing clothes is no piece of cake. The good side has to help the bad side, so it takes a little while. And if I'm not careful, I'll get all my clothes off and see myself in the mirror. And that is something I try never to do.
Fifteen minutes later, I'm standing on the curb, still sweating from the struggle. God, I hate getting dressed. It always reminds me of how I am.
A couple of SUVs glide by, both of them driven by the littlest mommies in the world, like there's some place called Inverse Proportion Motors and the smaller you are, the bigger the car you have to buy.
Lurching across the empty street, I wave at Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, who sit on their porch every evening and stare at the Neighborhood Watch sign with its sinister cloaked figure.
I make my way up the walk of 1003 between borders of purple lobelia. The lights are on. Music seeps out from under the oak door.
Just in case the doorbell's broken, I tap with the little bridle that hangs from the brass horse's head. When I hear footsteps I announce, "Hi, I'm a neighbor. From across the street."
The door opens. A woman in a striped caftan says, "Yes, can I help you?" Her black hair is short and shot through with gray. She has quick-looking eyes and sharp features. If some people look smoothed by hand, this lady is machine made.
I tell her my name and why I've come.
"Marcie Sorrels." She's holding a drink with her right hand, so she sticks out the other one.
I show her my bad arm, the fingers curled into a pathetic little fist.
"Not a stroke, I hope."
"But not dyskinetic."
"No, spastic."
"Ah, well, you were lucky."
"That's the title of my autobiography: Ben, the Lucky Spaz."
She opens the door wider. "Why don't you come inside and be hard on yourself?"
All of a sudden, I just want to throw Grandma's envelope at her feet and get out of there. What does she know? I think. Who does she think she is, anyway?
And then I wonder if I'm having a heart attack, because I've never thrown anything at anybody in my life, not even a baseball. Well, for sure not a baseball.
Where does all that emotion come from? Is it just from hanging around Colleen, who's so famous for going off on teachers she has a permanent seat in detention?

STONER & SPAZ by Ron Koertge. Copyright (c) 2002 by Ron Koertge. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"I like this book a lot, and I LOVE Ben. We need all the truth we can handle about kids like Ben and Colleen, and Ron Koertge’s writing feels deeply, sometimes painfully, true," - Terry Trueman, author of STUCK IN NEUTRAL, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2000

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