Book Review: Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature by Sashi Kaufman
Ben Wireman is partially deaf and completely insecure. The only two things that make him feel normal are being a soccer goalie and hanging out with his best friend, Tyler Nuson. Tyler is the golden boy, worshiped by girls and guys alike, and he no longer seems interested in Ben. Without Tyler, Ben isn’t sure who he is anymore, or if Tyler is really as “normal” as Ben thought he was. Maybe hanging out with freaks like Ilona Pierce, who has tattoos, blue hair, and almost no friends, is what he needs.
This captivating novel explores the shifting dynamics of friendships and complex art of growing up.
Ben and Tyler have been best friends since elementary school. Filipino Tyler is a super popular soccer play who’s increasingly acting like a jerky bro—hooking up with girls, drinking at parties, being obnoxious—and seems to be distancing himself from Ben. Or maybe from everyone. Partially deaf Ben is the goalie on the soccer team and pretty insecure about his hearing aids. He wears his hair long to try to hide them and is skilled in the “perfect art of projected normalcy.” Never mind that there’s obviously no such thing as “normal.” He doesn’t have a lot of friends. He’s close with his family and comfortable at home, and he’s not exactly excited to get cracking on those college applications. College means leaving home behind—and would it be super pathetic if he just followed Tyler to BU? Throughout the school year, Tyler’s behavior continues to change and worry Ben. He’s moody, seems secretive, is failing classes, and just isn’t himself. At one point, Ben witnesses Tyler having a total crying meltdown… but Tyler didn’t see him and Ben doesn’t want to push him to talk about something he obviously is keeping secret.
Besides, Ben has some other things going on. He hooks up a few times with a sophomore, Darcy. Then he gets paired for a project with Ilona, a part-Japanese blue-haired weirdo who happily lets her freak flag fly and believes everyone else should do the same. Initially Ben is rather offended by her references to him as a “freak” until he starts to understand that being a freak, and being honest about what makes you a freak, is something Ilona values. They start to spend more time together and Ben grows to appreciate her “honest and peculiar take on things.” During this time, Tyler continues to fall apart, eventually broaching a conversation with Ben about sexuality and incidents from their past. He doesn’t tell Ben what really has him so bent out of shape, but eventually Ben puts the pieces together and encourages him to get some help.
There was so much that I enjoyed about this book that I can overlook the few things I felt were flaws (like Darcy just ghosting out of the story, or Ilona treading a little too close to being a total MPDG, or many small pieces of the plot feeling abandoned or unresolved). The writing is fantastic, the characters, for the most part, are really engaging and dynamic, and the dialogue is exactly how I best like it—abundant and with a biting edge. I like that not only is this a book that revolves around a close male friendship, but the characters really examine what that means—on its own, in comparison to their other relationships, and in light of what appears to be going on with Tyler. I wanted them to explore some of these issues deeper—maybe be more honest with each other, or something. While I enjoyed following the ways Ben changed and the uncertainties that come with senior year for him, I do also wish the story had been as equally weighted toward Tyler. Seeing only bits of his story through Ben’s eyes was, at times, frustrating, because we know there was so much more going on. Minor quibbles aside, I really dug this book and flew through it, partially because I truly had no idea where parts of the story would go. I’ve seen a few professional reviews compare this to books by Ron Koertge and Carrie Mesrobian—two of my favorites. Those are apt comparisons and should prepare readers for what they will get in this story: a complex look at teen characters who behave and sound like many actual teens. A smart and thoughtful look at friendship, insecurity, and uncertainty.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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