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by Ronald Koertge
Candlewick Press, 2002
Review by Liz Bass on Jun 3rd 2002
book is a quick read, and the experience is like watching six Leave It To
Beaver re-runs. In fact, it is easy to imagine the Cleavers living down the
block from Ben Bancroft (Spaz) and his worry-wart grandma. Wally would think of
Ben as a sort-a friend (but not too close-a friend), and the Beav would be at
Grandmas back door on a regular basis trying to volunteer for chores because
everyone in the neighborhood knows that Ben cant do them because he has
cerebral palsy (or C.P., as Ben calls it). Grandma, of course, would be patient
with Beav, but irritated all the same. However, shed never show it because
shes a classy lady. Anyway, thats how things are played out in Lala Land --
otherwise known as ASC (Affluent Southern California). Or are they really?
Stoner & Spaz is
an improbable book in the same way that Leave It To Beaver is an improbable story
about an improbable family. Both the book and the sit-com, however, are well
written and based on ideas that are easy to digest. They both fall well within
the comfort zone of SCAE (Southern California Artistic Expression). Schlocky
of Stoner & Spaz might point out
that while the Beavs world operated without the benefit of sex, drugs, and
grungy music, Ben Bancrofts world is full of it, and they would be right. The
fact remains, however, that what Ben and Beav have in common is a geewhiz
response to their environment, and an unswerving belief that no matter how bad
things get, life will improve. Somehow.
this 169 page episode of Leave It To
Bancroft, heres what happens: Ben, who is described at various times as a
spaz, an orphan, and disabled, lives with his grandma and wants for nothing in
the way of food, clothing, and shelter. What is missing in his life is peer
friendship, particularly of the female variety. He is a movie buff who knows
the lore (Elsa Lanchester was the original "big hair" woman in Bride
of Frankenstein) and finds applications in his own life for lines of dialogue
spoken many moons ago by Humphrey Bogart.
Colleen Minou, a classmate at King High School. She is a Salvation Army clothes
horse who deals drugs in order to keep herself supplied. She loves her drugs
more than anything. Colleen is an irreverent exhibitionist who hopes to use Ben
in whatever way she can (writing her English papers or borrowing money, for
example). Ben is so desperate for any kind of female attention that he goes for
this girl, much to his grandmas dismay.
are some interesting side trips off the main plot line. We meet Ed, who is
Colleens bicepted boyfriend (who also loves drugs). We see Colleen trying to
kick her habit. We see Ben trying to make a movie about the people at King
High, and inevitably, we see Ben and Colleen in bed together at his older woman
friends house. Incidentally, you get the feeling that Eddie Haskell would know
this older woman friend, but that Wally would not. Anyway, Boyfriend Ed is the
predictable failure, and Bens home movie is the predictable success. Colleen
is. . .well, I wont spoil that. You can read it for yourself.
can imagine whole carloads of Stoner &
Spaz characters pulling in and out of fast food places trying to satisfy
their urges. It also occurs to me that if there was such a thing as a fast lit restaurant,
this book would be on the menu. It has a less-than-substantial drug dealer with
a heart of gold, a ditsy neighbor who gives a teenager the keys to her house
and then takes off, a grandma who is a control freak but loveable nonetheless,
and a kid with C.P. who finally moves into the fast and friendly lane at King
High School because of his movie-making skills.
it fast food or fast lit, none of it stays with you for very long. After a few
hours, as the old saying goes, you wind up hungry again.
© 2002 Liz Bass
Bass is a retired teacher and principal who lives in Northern California.