“Hey Tom! Where were you last night?”
So begins How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. This is a classic that I don’t think I read as a kid, though I do have a memory of a cartoon movie based on the book. This memory (oh, how time distorts our precious recollections!) left me with the impression that this would be a great book for one of Simon’s book boxes, so I found an old copy and previewed it.
I’m glad I did.
In brief, this is the story of four friends: Billy, Tom, Joe, and Allen. While bantering back and forth – as all boys do – Allen ends up challenging Billy to a bet: $50 says that Billy can’t eat 15 worms in 15 days. The boys pair up – Tom cheers on Billy and Joe falls in behind Allen – and the rest of the story plays the bet out. Allen, it seems, spoke a bit too hastily (as all boys do) and as Billy works his way through the worms, panic sets in. $50! FIFTY-DOLLARS! Soon, he’ll do almost anything to trick, scheme, or pound Billy into losing the bet.
From a literary perspective, this is a fine book. It’s well and cleverly written (the chapter titles, especially, are very creative) and I found it entertaining…to a point. I confess, however, that the story went in a direction I didn’t expect. The two pairs of boys become increasingly antagonistic to one another, and greed over the money ($50!) drives them to trickery, lying, and outright violence. We’re not talking about good natured wrestling matches. We’re talking punching, scratching, mud throwing, lock-you-in-the-shed-while-screaming-insults-at-you violence. On multiple occasions.
This tainted the story for me. I’m not opposed to violence in literature (just check out my own short story or some of the reviews I’ve posted), and perhaps the bitter fighting hit me harder because I was expecting a much lighter story. Even so, had the story ended with some sort of subtle “lesson to be learned here,” I think I’d have been fine with it. Instead, all the vitriol goes by unaddressed and the boys seem to end up friends again…though, by their conduct in the preceding 115 pages, it seems a fairly shallow friendship.
In the end, I decided it wasn’t a great book for Simon. He might not like the emotional stress of all the arguing/fighting and, besides, there was nary a good example from cover to cover. We’ll look for something else.
|Profanity||1||One slang term – in dialect – for the Lord name in vain.|
|Violence||2.5||Obviously, there’s nothing graphic here, but there is quite a bit of fighting (punches, etc.) at several points in the book.|
|Sex/Romantic Themes||1||One off-hand comment about two people caught in the back seat of a car. Very quick and subtle and no details given.|
NOTE: As always, my content notes are for informational purposes, not judgmental ones. For a full explanation of my Content Notes and the scale, click here.