With a crackling plot and smart, funny dialogue, Dunk pulls readers along on a journey that exposes a universal truth: We all need to laugh.
Chad, the main character, is a mixed-up, sometimes messed-up teen. His father, who is no longer around, was a deadbeat and Chad has fears that he himself will turn into one, or that people think he is already like his dad. His mother works hard, but doesn't want Chad to work since she had to work when she was young. Instead, she takes in a boarder.
That leaves Chad with a lot of time on his hands to spend at the boardwalk on the Jersey shore. That's where he discovers the Bozo.
The Bozo's job is to insult people into spending their hard earned money on the chance that they can throw a ball and knock him into a dunk tank. As soon as Chad sees him, he wants the job.
However, it turns out that his mother's boarder is also the Bozo. At first, Chad can't stand Malcolm's strange character swings (Malcolm is a talented actor, but odd with a capital O), but he learns to like him and finally, to trust him.
Malcolm teaches him that there's a lot more to being a Bozo than simply insulting someone. He also teaches him that laughter is sometimes the best medicine for a broken heart, a broken body and even for a broken soul.
The quest to become a Bozo isn't Chad's only challenge. His best friend Jason, ever the athlete, is struck down by a mysterious illness that leaves him weak and hopeless in a hospital room. Chad feels powerless in the face of his friend's sickness and trapped in the face of Jason's mother's contempt. She unreasonably blames Chad for the illness and thinks he is hurting, rather than helping, the situation.
There's also another storyline that involves a girl. Chad is competing for her affections with Anthony, a regular scumbucket with the face of an angel.
All of it ties together with Chad's journey from boyhood into manhood, dragged there kicking and screaming by the healing power of laughter. That's what makes this a great book--this isn't your stereotypical coming-of-age story. You don't even like Chad all the time (and neither do the police), but you can understand him.
I recommend this book for all YA readers. It could also be used for some great classroom exercises, such as discussions about the fine line between humor and cruelty (very applicable in school) or having kids come up with Bozo-like insults.