Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

On a regular basis, we get together to participate in an on-line book chat which we have dubbed: Three Viewpoint Thursdays.  This time, we read Josh Berk's The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

Description from GoodReads:
 Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

Aly: So are we ready to start the chat?

Vi: Sounds good.

Aly: We read The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk. A 2010 debut book. What was everyone's initial impressions?

Vi: Good pacing and an interesting main character. I liked how the story developed, though I was expecting it to be a little more like a mystery, where the death didn't end up happening until quite a ways into the story. I wasn't disappointed, since the overall story was great, but it just wasn't what I first thought it would be.

Renee: I thought it was alright. It isn't the sort of book I would usually pick up, but I was surprised by how funny it was. The voice was strong and it had great humor, although story-wise it is outside my usual tastes.

Aly: I had mixed feelings about this book. First, I liked the humor. Second, I liked the story better when they got more into the mystery. I wasn't expecting a mystery at all but I liked that part of it. I found the first part a little slow. And I had a few issues with the deafness part of it. I think Anthony John's Five Flavors of Dumb which I just read spoiled me because it was such the stronger book (and also had a deaf main character.)

Vi: I'll have to read that one. I don't think I've read much where there are deaf characters, especially not main characters. I would say I thought it was handled well, but as I don't have much experience, I can't say there isn't anything better. I liked Halpin pretty well. I found the mixture of his issues as an overweight teen boy blended with his issues as a deaf boy, so overall, it worked for me.

Aly: Since I have a degree in Deaf Ed and attended Gallaudet, I can be kind of picky about the deafness piece. In some ways, I think that the deafness aspect did not add as much as I had hoped and if it was left out it would be fine.  Back to this topic - did you feel that at times it seemed to stereotype boy humor?

Renee: I mean there was a lot of appropriate slang and phrases that felt "boyish" and appropriate for the age group (as far as I know) so that was one element of the story that didn't feel forced or anything.

Vi: I don't think I felt like anything was stereotyped. To me, it all felt natural for Halpin, and nothing sticks out to me as forced or sloppy. It made sense to the situations he ended up in.

Aly: I was just curious about it. I think the humor and the situations in the gym, etc. were pretty accurate.

Aly: So were there things that you specifically liked or didn't like with the book? Characters that grew on you?

Vi: I liked Devon. Even though he's the nerdy sidekick, he's also quirky, and not cliche as a sidekick. I liked the way the character was handled, and how there was still doubt as to his guilt/innocense even though he was so nice and fun. He was probably my favorite aspect of the book.

Renee: Character-wise, I liked Halpin. He was earnest and funny without being whiny or victimized. It was interesting take on a narrator with a disability. My favorite aspect of the book was probably that they included so many instant messages, newspaper clippings, letters, etc. I liked breaking up the narrative with these excerpts to keep it fresh.

Aly: Actually I thought Halpin and Devon made a good pair. Liked the references to the Hardy Boys and then Nancy Drew when Ebony joined in. The texting, and all of the fingerspelling parts were cool. I just felt that aside from Halpin and Devon most of the other characters were kind of flat? Or was that just me?

Vi: I did feel like the mystery part got a little lost because we didn't get as much of the other characters as we did of the two boys. The ending came as more of a surprise to me than I thought it should. But I liked how the "big party" wove in and out of the plot, and either including or ousting various characters along the way. So even though some of the characters felt more like they were in the background, the "big party" kind of made up for it. Also, I actually kind of thought the author might've meant to do it. Sort of a by-product of the main character not being quite in on everything and everyone else.

Renee: I felt that Ebony was also a bit developed, but not as much as the two boys, and especially someone like Leigha, who was mentioned so much, I expected more from the author when it came to character-building.

Aly: I think this is one book that I would have suggest be a tad bit longer and in the first part flesh out the other players a little more. But Vi, I like your thought about it being a "by-product of the main character not being quite in on everything". It may also be partially due to this being a first time author. I would hang in there for future books and see where he goes. And Renee, I agree I was surprised that Leigha didn't have more. The conclusion almost comes at a surprise in some ways.

Vi: I'd be interested to see where he goes next. I'd actually like to see more of Halpin and Devon. As relationships go, theirs is fun and I feel like there's a lot more to explore.

Aly: I am not sure where to go next with this. The book seemed short in some ways. Were there other things that jumped out at you? Things that struck you? Things you liked or disliked?

Renee: Well, I noticed that this book showed up on several lists of "best YA of 2010" or similar, so I was just wondering why you think this resonated so much with critics/readers? Is it just because it starred a boy with a disability or what?

Vi: I actually think it's because Halpin is a likeable guy, and the chemistry between him and Devon is great. Despite a somewhat lackluster cast of other characters, the two boys are written well. And it's something of an underdog, with an underdog main character. People tend to gravitate towards that sort of thing. Oh, and as for other things that I liked, I loved the way the other mystery, of the miner Dummy Halpin, was "solved". It was pretty great, and I wasn't expecting it at all.

Aly: Renee - I think that the humor of the book and the male character that isn't your typical popular guy is part of what attracted people. And I think that it is a mystery makes it something that people like as well. I agree with Vi in that the two mysteries and how there were solved was fun.

Vi: I just looked up Josh Berk's page, and it looks like he's working on a new mystery novel that's set to publish in 2012. Not a Hamburger Halpin book, but sounds interesting anyway. ^_^

Aly: Thanks I said I will definitely check out a second book and see how his writing develops.

Renee: I might read more of his stuff in the future, because his prose was direct and the voice of the MC was strong and funny, but this one disappointed me a bit considering how much hype it has received.

Aly: I think there are quite a few books that get hyped up and aren't really as good as the hype. But I think because of the short chapters and that it did pick up that I would give him another shot.

Vi: I'm definitely interested in seeing more from this author, and I think Hamburger Halpin makes a good book for boys.

Aly: Yes, I think this is one book that would connect more with boys.

Renee: Yep, definitely a "boy's" book, but I think it had more crossover as being "gender-neutral" than Vladimir Todd (from what I can recall).

Aly: Thanks everyone for all their thoughts on this book.  This was a great chat.