Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Regular readers of this blog may remember that one of the books that made both my son's and my list for the top Newbery books of last year was Tom Angleberger's delightful The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (here is my complete review).  So we had our names down on the library's waiting list as soon as the publication date was announced for the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back.  But it was only this week that the library's order came in and we got our hot little hands on a copy--the first ones for that particular copy, as it turned out.

However, I have to say that I began reading the book with some trepidation.  After all, Origami Yoda was such an original and quirky book, which covers a serious topic in a funny way and really captures the social trials and tribulations of being in middle school.  And I'm sure we've all had the experience of loving the first book in a series, but finding the subsequent offerings don't measure up to our first love.

Well, I'm happy to report that Tom has done it again in Darth Paper Strikes Back.  It does depart somewhat from the original; I, at least, found it less laughing-out-loud funny and dealing with issues with  higher stakes.  This time around, Dwight, the student who voices the inexplicably wise and prescient pronouncements of the paper finger puppet known as Origami Yoda, isn't just trying to overcome his reputation as the weirdest kid in school; this time, after an encounter with a new rival, another finger puppet called Darth Paper operated by the obnoxious Harvey, Dwight has been labeled "violent," "disruptive," and "dangerous," and is threatened with expulsion from his school and a transfer to a correctional educational facility.  Can Dwight's friends put together enough evidence to convince the school board to keep him in school?  It's particularly hard since, without Origami Yoda's advice, their lives seem to be falling apart around them.

I will say, it took a little while for this book to grow on me.  At first, it seemed a little like a retread of the first book, but not as funny or original.  But what this book made have lost in humor, it more than made up for with Star Wars lore.  I mean, this one has must have a lot of Jedi mind tricks in it, because things developed in a way that I never imagined, and finally wrapped things up in an incredibly satisfying ending.   The enduring mystery of Origami Yoda still remains, and even takes the series to a new level of Star Wars woo-woo.  Great job, Tom Angleberger!  I loved it!

One last confession....another thing that I loved about this book is that Angleberger gets in a few digs about the test-score-obsessed mentality of today's middle schools.  Here is my favorite encounter between Tommy, the main narrator of the book, and the principal of his school, who is the main person trying to have Dwight kicked out of her school:

    I was almost to my locker when I saw Principal Rabbski up ahead....I put my hand up and pointed Origami Yoda right at her.
   "If you strike down Dwight, he will grow more powerful than you can possibly imagine!" said Origami Yoda.
   Rabbski sighed.  "Tommy, I think it's time you and I had a little talk."...
   She had a lot to say.  A lot of it was about the Standards of Learning tests that we have to take and how important they are to the students and to the school.  She said some students were a constant distraction from the Standards of Learning.  Not only were they hurting themselves, they were also hurting other students and the whole school, since school funding was based on test scores. ...
   "You're a good kid, but another kid has got you confused and distracted.  I need you to put Yoda away.  Put your petition away.  And concentrate on the real reason you're here:  To learn, To ace the Standards test."
    Well, I was confused and distracted, but there was no way I was buying all that.  It had an Emperor Palpatine sound to it.  You know--all that "I'm bringing peace to the galaxy" stuff he says.
Like I said, I loved it.

The book also comes with directions on making your own Origami Yoda and Darth Paper.  We actually got PERSONAL instructions when we heard Tom Angleberger speak at Quail Ridge Books, so we already had our versions ready prior to the book's arrival:

So I definitely recommend this book.  Again, it is a fun read, but it deals with some topics worth discussing.  And who can resist origami Star Wars finger puppets?

If you are new to Tom Angleberger, I can also recommend his other 2011 book, Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset.

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