Smiles to Go
Jerry Spinelli and I have an interesting reader-author relationship. I read Maniac Magee at least one a year from 3rd through about 7th grade. I love Maniac Magee. (It's another one that if you haven't read, you should.) I love it so much that I mistakenly assigned this love to Mr. Spinelli and not the the novel itself. Then I read Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, both of which I didn't love (even though I know many people who did). And then I read Eggs, which I also didn't love. (On a side note, while writing this post I encountered Spinelli's website, which I also do not love...)
My lack of love is not a result of these books being poorly written or poorly thought-out in any way. I've just come to realize that I like novels that tell about events. Novels that follow the traditional 5-element novel pattern: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Spinelli's stories don't follow that. Instead, (most of) his novels follow one person and the change in that person over a period of time. No major climactic point, just steadily building a character in a commentary on the human condition.
Understanding this made it much easier for me to like (but still not love) Spinelli's novels. Smiles to Go is about Will Tuppence, a kid with a plan. His 12-step master plan begins with Birth, ends with Death, and lays out his life in a neat and tidy manner. However, Will's plan changes, beginning with his discovery of the death of a proton, and he has to rethink his plan to fit his life, complete with an annoying younger sister and a friend who Will would like to be more than a friend.
Will and I jived better than most of the characters in the Spinelli novels I have read. I, too, am a planner, and I really hate when my plan has to change or when my plan doesn't execute correctly. For that reason, I liked this book. I didn't love the annoying little sister part (probably because I always was the annoying little sister), and some of the characters were too removed from reality for my tastes, but I liked it.
Final word: B+. Like, not love, but worth a read if you have an afternoon. I found the novel entertaining and it would be fun to read and discuss with kids, too.