February 11, 2010


Lunch Lady No. 3: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $5.99.

Your Life, but Better! By Crystal Velasquez. Delacorte Press. $7.99.

     “Serving justice! And serving lunch!” Has there ever been a better motto for a super-heroic character? But then there’s never been one quite like Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, whose graphic-novel exploits center on nefarious doings in and around the school attended by Dee, Terrence and Hector – who inevitably get to do their own heroics . The third book in this twisty and twisted series isn’t quite as wild as the first two (Cyborg Substitute and League of Librarians), but it certainly has its moments. They revolve around an author named Lewis Scribson, who is the creator of Flippy Bunny and who turns out to be something of a pill when he shows up at school. He is nasty and off-putting and won’t even sign Hector’s book, because it has a ripped cover. Then, in a separate plot that of course turns out to be connected to the authorial one, the school’s gym teacher disappears. And, also of course, Scribson is behind it all. The recurrent elements of the series are all here, such as Lunch Lady’s food-related equipment, designed by her friend and cohort, Betty: hamburger headphones for eavesdropping, a “fancy ketchup packet laser,” and so on. The eventual Attack of the Flippy Bunnies is hilarious, as is their defeat through dodgeball. And the idea of bringing gym teachers out of hypnosis with smelly socks has just the right “ick” factor. Scribson isn’t really much of a menace, though; but then, kids in the target age range of 7-10 will probably be too busy enjoying Krosoczka’s adept drawings and in-character exclamations (“Great Brussels sprouts!”) to pay super-close attention to such plot points.

     The plot is even more fragmented in Your Life, but Better! – which is the first book of a series with the odd overall title of Your Life, but… This is one of those choose-your-own-adventure books, but Crystal Velasquez tries to raise it a notch above others by including a series of quizzes for the target audience of girls ages 8-12 to take. The questions involve real-world (if usually superficial) issues. One asks which reality show a reader would most like to be on: The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek, So You Think You Can Dance or Amazing Race. Each choice comes with a few lines indicating what the person picking it is probably thinking by making that selection – and the cumulative points from making multiple selections are then used to tell readers what page they should turn to next. Some questions do actually require thought: “You hear your younger sister telling your parents that she got an A on her last biology test, but you know for a fact that she got a big fat F.” The choices here are threatening to tell on her; making sure she knows you could tell on her, but aren’t for now; telling her you know she failed and will tell your parents if she doesn’t; or telling her you know she failed – but you won’t tell, and will tutor her for the next test. Even in questions like this, it is usually pretty clear what a nice girl (or good sister) ought to do, but of course readers can decide whether they want to come across in their answers as nice or not – or whether they really want to look into themselves and be honest. That’s a lot to expect of preteens, and the story Velasquez tells is not really strong enough to invite substantial introspection – it is filled with the usual school dilemmas, cute boys, malls, parties, and so forth. And some of the writing just tries too hard to be with-it and/or cute: “You are a hopeless romantic. You’re always first in line to help decorate for the Valentine’s Day dance, and you’re still heartbroken that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt broke up.” Your Life, but Better! never quite answers the question that its title begs readers to ask: better than what? The book is best if not taken as seriously as Velasquez seems to hope her readers will take it.

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