Saturday, 19 November 2011

review: Standing Up to Mr. O

by Claudia Mills
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998
contemporary middle-grade-cross-young adult

Maggie's always loved to impress her favourite teacher, Mr. O... until he starts lab dissections in their course. To Maggie, the killing of defenceless animals just for scientific observation isn't worth getting an A and a special smile. Apaprently, bad boy Jake Dycus thinks so too. His father left him just like Maggie's did, and soon she's struggling to balance this double-edged connection to Jake with the moral obstacles her very viewpoint on life.
The cover:

Okay, so maybe it's not fabulous, but lord it's so much better than the original hardcover. (*shields eyes*) Her stand-off-ish pose is nice, but the coloured tone seems wholly unnecessary.

The book:

This book gave me the guts to walk out of my high school frog dissection. I'm not kidding. Granted, I didn't get an F for it because my teacher let me watch a virtual dissection, but my eyes were opened to this moral issue in middle school thanks to Standing Up to Mr. O.

The writing style is quite different; it's firmly 20th-century writing, without that close contact with the protagonist that we're used to nowadays even in third-person limited. Somehow, Maggie still sounds like a close friend, thanks to all the problems she works through. Her growth through the moral questions and problematic relationships will endear her to readers.

Jake. The ultimate and most realistic bad boy I've yet to read about. (Pardon the fragment; he just needs that kind of emphasis.) He genuinely likes Maggie, but he likes his trouble more; he isn't just a brooding, looks-like-he-might-be-dangerous guy. He does cause trouble, unlike other so-called "bad boys". Matt: the good guy, but not a doormat (thank God!). He's high-handed and arrogant, which makes his developing relationship with Maggie all the more sweet. I could never pick between them. <3

BFF Alycia provides an interesting foil to Maggie, as does Maggie's mother; even Alycia's parents are briefly but well sketched out. As for Mr. O -- well, it might be just the paranoid little girl in me, but I viewed his relationship with Maggie as almost pedophilistic, and that hasn't changed upon re-reading it. Thank goodness the book doesn't totally centre around that.

With a plot that moves itself and genuine characters populating it Standing Up to Mr. O is a throwback to the 20st century with a modern topic that shouldn't be missed.

Rating: 4 out of 5