May 4, 2010

"The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" by Tom Angleberger

(Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review, but I have received books from this author in the past, and I consider him an online friend. Also, I am listed in the Acknowledgments section among his list of "cool folks.")

"The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" by Tom Angleberger is the third book I've read by this author. His two previous books were written under the pseudonym Sam Riddleburger. I need to make that clear for the purposes of comparison later.

This book is presented as kind of a case book, a journal in which each chapter is a section of the story written from a different perspective, trying to determine whether Origami Yoda was just a finger puppet used by a weird kid to make predictions or if it really had powers.

The aforementioned "weird kid," Dwight, claims that Origami Yoda speaks through him, and gives other students advice by tapping into the Force.

Each chapter relates a different student's experiences with the advice from Origami Yoda, and some idea as to whether the writer believes in him. Each chapter ends with comments by Harvey, another student and Origami Yoda-cynic, and final comments by Tommy, the student who compiled this casebook and a believer.

That is one of the first things that shows the genius in how this book is written. Each narrative sounds credible. Angleberger genuinely shifts perspectives and presents the stories from different points of view. His diction, narration, and structure shift as each character takes over. It is very easy to believe that each chapter was written by a different person.

The story is a lot of fun. Watching the school year progress, following the sub-plots, and watching each student deal with this mystery is well worth the read.

Tom Angleberger excels at writing from kids' perspective. His two previous books that I've read, "The Qwikpick Adventure Society" and "Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run" (co-authored with Mike Hemphill), are also in persuasive first-person narration.

"Yoda" is, like "Qwikpick," presented in a journal format. For young readers (such as my 11- and 13-year-old boys, each of whom loved the book), it's a nice affirmation that some adults do take kids' interests seriously. Kids do compile these kinds of journals, regarding their adventures and mysteries as serious. Too many adults dismiss them.

The book also looks like a journal. Every page has been lightly printed with what look like rumpled lines and folds as if it had been carried around by a sixth grader. The feel of this book is really a delight.

"Origami Yoda" celebrates them. The kids in this book are realistic, smart, and ... above all else ... kids. I could easily believe that my son hangs out with Kellen or Dwight or Tommy at lunch.

If I might indulge here ... "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" is enjoying a level of commercial success that "Stonewall Hinkleman" and "Qwikpick" didn't. Perhaps that's related to the "Star Wars" licensing and the accompanying promotion. I would strongly encourage readers who pick up "Origami Yoda" and enjoy it to look for the other two books, too.

Also ... Angleberger has filled the book with what we in the geek community call "Easter eggs," little references to other things that appeal to serious fans.

For example, the students attend McQuarrie Middle School. There is a reference to buying food at the Qwikpick. Harvey makes a comment about Robert E. Lee's horse. (Good luck figuring that one out if you're not a Riddleburger fan!)

This is a great middle-school level read, and any adult lovers of kidlit should definitely check it out.

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