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Monday, July 27, 2009

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen

Some of the best books written start in one place and end in another.

Such is the situation in Swear to Howdy. It starts as a laugh-out-loud story of two boisterous boys who live next door to each other and are best friends. They begin their first, unbreakable secret pact when Joey gets bit in the private parts by a fish, and Russell swears-to-howdy that he won’t tell a soul such a temptingly funny tale.

Now, Joey got himself in such a predicament because his skivvies weren’t on, and that was due to their interference with the fine art of teaching Russell how to fart on command. (Such a thing has much visual appeal when you are submerged.) Some might find this a bit coarse, but being the mother of a boy who finds bodily functions far more intriguing than I do, it tickled my funny bone.

The antics, of course, do not end there. Next, we have bugs stuck in drinks, dying goldfish, and Tank, the enormous frog who squirts green poo when squeezed. The tone starts to shift a bit when the boys practice shooting squirrels who are destroying the driveway, but accidentally kill the family cat.

It’s with the late-night prank of hanging a homemade ghost in a tree to lower and scare passing drivers that things in the book take a serious turn and the tone shifts quite a bit. They happen to lower the ghost for a car that has faulty brakes, and when the driver hits the brakes, the car runs into a post, and kills the driver who is the teen-age sister of Joey.

Joey also is the son of an angry, drinking father with little compassion or patience. His family is a complete contrast to Russell’s. Joey and Russell once again make a pact not to tell what they did with the ghost, and while everyone is in shock and mourning, Joey is suffering worst of all, and Russell is silent and struggling. It comes to a head when Joey wakes Russell in the middle of the night and takes him out to drink fermented blackberries. Joey gets drunk and breaks down sobbing, and Russell is at a loss.

Russell decides to check on Joey a little later and finds Joey just about to shoot himself. He stops it, drags Joey across the street to his house where his mother and father protect Joey from his father’s wrath as the whole story is exposed as Russell chooses to break the pact in order to help Joey. Joey, though, considers this a betrayal.

It is a very powerful ending about what it does and does not mean to be a true friend.

I’d like to give this a full safety rating as it was an outstanding story, but it is a mid-to-younger reading level for tweens, and I think the theme needs parental scrutiny for that age group due to its intensity.

Safety Rating: 1 Flag


Anonymous,  September 28, 2009 at 10:52 AM  

Ive read the book:) its awesome but you should change this and not tell what happens in the end say something like"Then something tragic happend worse than all the other crazy things...and its eating the boys inside will rusty have to break there secret pact ?"

Anonymous,  October 16, 2009 at 10:12 AM  

Thank you for the detailed Safety Flag. I had heard about the hilarity of the beginning of the book, but not the tragedy at the end. Knowing this, I will save this read until my son (8) gets a little older, and be sure to talk with him as he finishes up the book.

Tween Lit Crit October 16, 2009 at 6:10 PM  

That's the call I would make for an 8 yr. old. It gets mature and serious at the end.

Many books I'd not want my child to necessarily absorb every message from can be redeemed into good critical-thinking experiences by discussion with a responsible adult. But this one probably calls for a certain maturity even with guidance.

Anonymous,  December 12, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

it was a really good book, but the ending sucked! i mean do you really call that an ending?! it was a great book for telling what friendship is and-all, but i hated the ending.

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