Hokey Pokey

262p. Knopf. Jan. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83198-0; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93198-7; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-307-97570-6.
RedReviewStarGr 5–7—Hokey Pokey is a place where children live and rule themselves, riding bicycles like horses, watching cartoons on huge outdoor screens, throwing tantrums and getting hugged, all without an adult in sight. Their lives are almost pure joy as they dance the eponymous dance, savor the eponymous frozen treat, and listen to The Story of the Kid through little shells they carry in their pockets. Jack is their hero and ringleader, dealing with bully Harold the Destroyer, teaching Kiki lessons in sports and Lopez lessons in life, until the day things begin to change. Jack wakes to find that his beloved bike, Scramjet, has been commandeered by Jubilee, whom he despises because she's a girl. Answering his Tarzan cry of despair, Amigos LaJo and Dusty race to his side and notice before he does that Jack's stomach tattoo, given to all children once they're out of diapers, is starting to disappear. Fighting against the realization that Jack is going to leave them, they lure him into one last bike roundup, roping him and tying him down until Jubilee releases him, recognizing that he cannot resist the pull away from all of them toward the Forbidden Hut and the Train, and into The Story. Using elements of myth, allegory, fantasy, and not-quite science fiction, Spinelli has skillfully combined a stream-of-consciousness narrative with delicious inventive language to create a vivid, dreamlike world. This unforgettable coming-of-age story will resonate with tween readers and take its rightful place beside the author's Maniac Magee (Little, Brown, 1990) and Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar, 1998).—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
A cartoony map is the reader's entree into the world of Hokey Pokey. Landmarks include "Forbidden Hut" (which looks like a garden shed), "Gorilla Hill" (a mound of dirt), and a statue in the center labeled "The Kid." But Hokey Pokey is no ordinary locale: one patch of ground is labeled "Cartoons," another "Tantrums," and a disembodied fun-house clown called "Tattooer" looks on. It's a Neverland-like world peopled by "Newbies," "Snotsippers," "Sillynillies," and "Gappergums" (i.e., children). The story's main character is Jack, a "Big Kid" revered by Hokey Pokeyans for his self-confidence, his kindness to the little guy, and taming of his "stallion" (read: bicycle), a beauty called Scramjet. At the start of the book, Jack's mortal enemy, Jubilee, has stolen Scramjet. What's worse, she paints the bike yellow, and she and her friend "girl it up." Jack is furious, but he's also restless; something is telling him that things have changed -- that he has changed, and outgrown bicycle-wrangling and boy/girl rivalries. Spinelli's allegory of Childhood Lost, while universal in theme, can be alienating in its improvisatory nature, with stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentences, non sequiturs, and made-up words. Some readers may thrill to the narrative style, just as others will find it impenetrable. The Hokey Pokey setting isn't idyllic -- a bully called The Destroyer is straight out of Spinelli central casting -- but the story has a nostalgic feel, for a time when children were hooked on Looney Toons and unsupervised make-believe play with the neighbor kids was the norm. elissa gershowitz

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