A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius - Stacey Matson
My name is Arthur Aaron Bean, but I normally just go by Arthur. I spent the summer at my grandparents' house in Balzac. It was a long summer. I actually live in one of the apartment buildings pretty close to the school. I like to knit and watch movies, sometimes at the same time. I'm a very good multi-tasker. I like creating writing, so I hope that we will do that and that I didn't miss it. I was probably the best writer in my elementary school, and I plan on getting rich as a novelist when I'm a grown-up. I don't have any siblings, but my cousin Luke is kind of like my twin brother.And thus begins the story of Arthur Bean, a wonderfully honest (if not slightly delusional) young boy writing a letter to his new teacher before attending school after being away for a time. Though really (and it's not just because I know her) the true genius in this book is the author herself.
Arthur Aaron Bean is a totally real kid. He is multi-dimensional, full of exaggeration, self-aggrandizing spirit, and yet his sense of humour is overshadowed by the aftermath of a family tragedy and his father's depression. Arthur is socially awkward and sometimes emotionally manipulative, and yet readers will still find themselves becoming attached to him, even as he struggles to move past his disdain for rules and his own ego.
The novel covers one school year in the life of Arthur Bean, written through a mix of classroom assignments, short stories, poems, personal responses, emails, and other related forms. This particular style is difficult to write at the best of times, but Matson's skill with words means that readers will find much to enjoy on the surface, but will also find much to savour and become connected to while reading between the lines of each tidbit throughout the novel. Arthur's Reading Journal responses are incredibly revealing, raw, and beautifully written.
I made us Kraft Dinner, and my dad had a beer and watched TV. . . . I listened to the sounds of canned laughter as I stirred in the cheese. As the tree warmed up, it dropped its branches and began to lean to the left, and soon half of the tree was blocking the television. I noticed it during dinner, but I didn't say anything. I don't think my dad noticed. We just sat there with our empty plates covered in drying cheese sauce on the floor beside the couch.Arthur wants to be a famous author, but often his own dreams lead him astray from reality, causing a disconnect between his own understanding of the real world and those around him, such as his friend Kennedy, and Robbie his... frienemy? His relationship with Mrs. Whitehead is also quite wonderful, as she serves as Arthur's mentor, showing concern for his shortcomings while nurturing his (sometimes hidden) talents. I love Mrs. Whitehead. And Mr. Everett! Really, the whole cast of supporting characters is great. Can I just say I love pretty much everything about this book?
Perhaps the only things I found excessive (though I TOTALLY understand why it's been done, and I'm not necessarily saying it's a bad thing!) is the intensive use of exclamation points, all-caps, and emoticons in Kennedy's emails. They definitely reflect her attitude and gave me a very clear image of her personality, but I did find myself wondering if it couldn't be toned down just a tiny bit. Of course, this is simply personal opinion.
Hi Arthur! I'm really excited that you are my creative writing partner!!! LOL!! I LOVE writing stories, and it's gonna be really fun sharing ideas with you! I didn't even know you liked writing! You should join the newspaper! We have a lot of fun reporting on stuff! And it's GREAT practice for writing!Aside from this (itty bitty) qualm (if one can even call it that), I can't help but wax poetic about this wonderful book. But before I end the review, I also have to mention the illustrations that bring out Robbie's creativity. Simon Kwan's drawings are reminiscent of Tim Burton's animated films, or perhaps even more similar to Lenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl by Roman Dirge. In any case, the illustrations wonderfully complement the mood and style of the book. And I must also compliment Aldo Fierro's fabulous cover design! Basically, it's a great package, all around.
A fantastic debut from Stacey Matson, author, christmas tree seller, and birthday party fairy princess!
(You can also read a small excerpt on the Scholastic Canada website)