Black History Month is a time to celebrate the monumental strides African Americans have made in their personal, professional and academic lives. It's also a time to celebrate great books written by, for and about African Americans--especially when one of those books features a smooth-talking 13-year old African American main character who happens to be a bowling protege with a bad case of asthma and a propensity for pranks.
I am, of course, speaking about the undefeatable Lamar Washington--the confident, ever-optimistic hero of debut author Crystal Allen's unforgettable 'tween novel, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-sized Trophy.
Allen's first novel has everything a 'tween or teen could want in great reading. Humor, sadness, sibling smack-downs, sports...and a healthy dose of lip-smacking lip-action underneath the middle-school bleachers.
The book opens to Lamar falling--hard--for pretty Makeda Phillips. Unfortunately, Makeda doesn't take Lamar seriously, because last year, Lamar and his best friend Sergio told everyone Makeda's forehead was so big, it was actually a "five head!" The joke seemed harmless at the time, but when Lamar realizes just how much his words have hurt Makeda, it's not so funny anymore. Now all he wants is to change his image from prankster to potential boyfriend.
To undo the damage, Lamar tries to show Makeda his serious side. That's not easy to do without money, though, so when resident bad-boy Billy Jenks devises a bowling scheme to make fast money, Lamar--the hottest bowler in Striker's Bowling Paradise--is all for it. The money is so good, Lamar even feels better about the fact that he's never won a trophy to place on the livingroom mantel, like his trophy-winning brother, Xavier the Basketball Savier.
Things go so well, Lamar ignores Sergio's warnings about Billy's dangerous side. Then things suddenly turn sour, and Billy is egging Lamar to pull the worst prank ever. In a flash, Xavier's scholarship is in jeopardy, Makeda wants to break up, Sergio isn't speaking to him, and the whole town thinks Lamar is a jerk.
How's that for excitement?
Allen's characters are well-rounded and believable enough to make you laugh, cry, and keep flipping those pages until the story is done. The pacing is good, the plot and sub-plots are fresh and meticulously-written, and the voices ring with authenticity. I especially love the warm and fuzzy images Allen weaves into the story: Grannies nodding off in their rocking chairs on the porch; bowling balls making their unique thunder-rumble as they barrel down the lanes and topple the pins; and fathers working so many hours, they don't see what's going on right under their noses.
For a touch of the sentimental and a giant glob of laugh-out-loud, be sure to read, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-sized Trophy. Holy crackers and cream cheese, it's good!