“Do zombies eat doughnuts with their fingers? No, they eat their fingers separately.” ~Jamie Grimm (I Funny)
Author: James Patterson (Illustrated by Chris Grabenstein)
Genre: Realistic Fiction (Middle Grade)
Summary: Jamie Grimm is a middle schooler on a mission: he wants to become the world’s greatest standup comedian–even if he doesn’t have a lot to laugh about these days. He’s new in town and stuck living with his aunt, uncle, and their evil son Stevie, a bully who doesn’t let Jamie’s wheelchair stop him from messing with Jamie as much as possible. But Jamie doesn’t let his situation get him down. When his Uncle Frankie mentions a contest called The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic, Jamie knows he has to enter. But are the judges only rewarding him out of pity because of his wheelchair, like Stevie suggests? Will Jamie ever share the secret of his troubled past instead of hiding behind his comedy act?
My Opinion: I Funny is a solid start to what’s a heartwarming and humorous series. It has a lot going for it with a fair amount of diversity, accurate portrayal of middle school life, and a lot of humor. It falls short in some areas with too many pop-culture references and a couple of pacing problems towards the end. All together I gave this book four stars.
Ok, here’s a bit of background. In the elementary school I volunteer at this series is a huge hit. The books are near falling apart and they’re hard to keep on the shelves. But due to the title (it’s not proper grammar ok?) I passed on it. Eventually I realized that was a stupid reason to pass on a book and read the inside cover. A kid with a physical disability. Do you know how hard those books are to find? Do you know how hard it was for me to find books like that when I was growing up? When my mom got the book for my nephew thanks to my recommendation I read it. Like I snatched it out of the bag and carried it around with me and read it everywhere I went read it. And then shoved it in my parents’ faces and told them to read it when I was done.
I wish I had a book like that when I was growing up. I wish that people with physical disabilities had more books like this. I’m hard of hearing (HoH) which is a physical disability. I can’t relate to a lot of what Jamie and those in wheelchairs go through, but there were some things that were universal. For example, Jamie was thrilled when someone picked on him. Why? Because for once it wasn’t “Oh, yeah shouldn’t pick on him, he’s in a wheel chair,” it was “Look, you got in my way, I’m going to punch you now.”
As someone who is HoH I can relate to that. I can relate to that so hard. My writing and photography isn’t as important or interesting because “Oh bless your heart, look at how brave you are to write something or take all those photos being hearing impaired!”(that’s called ableism and it’s hurtful don’t do it).
Oh, so I get brownie points for waking up in the morning and making accommodations for myself, and being interested in things, just like non-disabled people? And if you think it’s bad now, you should have seen what my life was like in elementary and middle school.
So I can relate to the joy and pain of being picked on not for your disability, but for just being you. Being picked on always hurts, but boy does it feel nice to be treated like a normal person by people outside your family.
Despite his struggles, Jamie is optimistic and has a small but diverse group of friends which grows throughout the book. The friends each challenge and help Jamie in their own ways, and encourage him to be honest with himself. Like me Jamie found something he was really good at and hid behind it, because without that one thing, no one would take him seriously because he was in a wheelchair. Or so he thought.
It was fun to see Jamie realize that’s not the case, and I swear if I had this book when I was in elementary/middle school I would have realized that so much sooner. Yet realizing it is still a process, even if you do have help from friends or books.
Which leads me to the first problem of the book. I Funny has some great moments in it, yet the pacing of the book was so fast towards the end those moments never really had time to sink in. Jamie makes some important realizations about himself and his friends, and yet we’re rushed off to the next show/punch line. That was a little frustrating for me. True, when you’re younger it takes a while to see past yourself, you have moments of clarity and then you have to learn them a few more times before they fully sink in. But even then there’s time to digest it. No digestion time here.
Lots of pop culture references though! Some that this twenty-something year old didn’t get. Yeah….when a twenty-something year old isn’t catching a fair chunk of your pop-culture references then how the heck is a 10 year old going to? Sure, I know the big name comedians, so does my nephew, but Jamie had such a detailed knowledge on comedy that I wasn’t catching everything. The impressive part about this though, is that Jamie’s knowledge is realistic. Never underestimate the power of a kid that gets an interest in something. My issue is just how the knowledge translated. It took some of the enjoyment out of some of the jokes.
Though I’m still cracking up over most of the zombie jokes. Read this book. It’s good fun and a quick read. While it flops on some things, it gets most of it right and is over all a great book.
TL;DR: Jamie’s voice was authentic, as were his struggles. His friends were interesting and it was fun to see his circle of friends grow. Jamie grew a fair bit in this first book, and the book is on the short side (when you count all the drawings). Despite some pacing issues towards the end, the book came across as genuine. It’s a solid start to the series and I’d fully recommend it to children and adults alike.