A story for children of all ages (9 to 109). A book for anyone who remembers the politics of the playground. A tale to be told to those who – sometimes – feel out of their depth.
“Jack’s average,” said Adam.
“I wouldn’t even say he was that,” said Olivia. “Anyway, you told us he was average yesterday. Has he not improved yet?”
“No,” said Adam dejectedly.
“Be fair,” I said to them both, “it’s only been a day.”
“You should take up karate,” she says. “You’d be way below average at that.”
The logic is inescapable but it’s not what I was looking for.
Jack is adrift in the middle of everything. When you are bright enough to ask the questions but not so clever to understand the answers, the world can be a difficult place. And as everyone knows, the world is just a metaphor for school.
Jack probably won’t understand this, not yet, but this story is not about being average. Not really. It is a tale of friendships lost and friendships found. It is the precursor to a coming of age story; a prerequisite of passage.
Jack Par(r) is a story told in the first person. We are introduced to Jack’s world, to his friends, his classmates and his family.
There is his teacher, the inimitable Edgar K. Boogie (Mr Davies):
“Algebra,” he said. “Tricky subject, algebra.” He must have been talking to Mrs Warburton. “Numbers for letters: letters for numbers. No good can come of it.”
He was right. I told him so.
“Unless, of course…” he said,”
There is his mother with her lofty ambitions for a family breakfast. His father who is thinking of wearing his invisible hair in a ponytail. And his big sister:
I have one bruise on my upper left arm that’s been there since I was three. Whenever it starts to fade, Sara just “tops it up”, as she says.
At school there is Matt; his nemesis; the Moriarty to Jack’s Holmes Watson. It is Matt who steals his best friend; who constantly undermines Jack’s efforts in the classroom and his position in the hierarchy of the playground. Matt who loads the bullets but never pulls the trigger.
I knew it! Matt had set Tikka up. He’d probably stolen the squid this morning and … And I bet he’d tried to colour it in at break, to make it look like a vampire squid. That would explain the black marks. Only Matt would be dumb enough to try to colour in a squid.
And then there is Zane.
In the middle of the afternoon, Zane stood on his desk and told the whole class he was “a creature of the night.” Mrs Warburton was taking us for maths at the time. “That does not surprise me one bit, Mr Chaudhry,” she said, “now sit down and shut up.” With any other child in the class she would have hit the roof but Mrs Warburton is surprisingly good with Zane. Having made his announcement, Zane was quite happy to retake his seat and quietly pretend he was being savaged by a rubber.
Shaken from youthful ignorance, Jack Par(r) tells the tale of a boy struggling to hold on to the comfortable routine he unthinkingly enjoyed for so long. Increasingly isolated in the crowd, Jack takes accidental refuge, if not comfort, in his daydreams. Along the way Jack encounters some of the great philosophical questions of the age.
- Why is it so hard to turn left in a Sopwith Camel?
- What would win a fight between a tiger and a tiger shark?
- How much would an unsigned Van Gogh cost?
- How do you steer a skeleton bobsleigh?
- Why don’t footballers support the teams they play for?
- Why did it take over fifty years for the Deep Sea Challenger to reach the bottom of the ocean?
- And what is the point of algebra, really?
And what, exactly, are you supposed to do when you discover you are the missing link between idiots and geniuses?