1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw (author’s worst nightmare)

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw explores the troubles of a sixth grader through a series of letters written to his favorite author.

This is your typical divorced parents with kid story. Leigh is having trouble adapting to his recently divorced parents; he’s stuck living with his mom while his dad doesn’t always remember to call him. Yet it’s hard to sympathize with Leigh since he acts (and writes) much younger than what I’d consider typical sixth grade behavior. As a result of problems within his family life, he ends up reaching out to his favorite author for guidance and simultaneously becomes an annoyance.

Leigh Botts isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and lots of advice he receives goes right over his head. He writes to his favorite author as part of an assignment, but continues to pester him to the point that the author tells the kid to write all his letters in a diary. Leigh, sadly, is a bit too dense to understand that the author no longer wants to hear from him. I wish we would have gotten to read Mr. Henshaw’s letters and postcards, because they sound more entertaining than Leigh’s long ramblings about his own life. The letters felt pretty lifeless to me, and Leigh’s anxious personality was hidden by the gimmick of a book written in the form of letters.

For most of the book, the reader follows Leigh’s highs and lows of living a mundane suburban life. At one point, there is a subplot where someone is stealing his lunch so he rigs his lunchbox up with an alarm to catch the culprit. While these story lines may entertain a younger child, reading this as an adult was a bit of a chore to get through.

While I didn’t care much for the story, I did enjoy the part where he meets another author at a brunch who compliments him on his ability to write in his own voice and not imitate someone else. I thought this helped round out the story a bit as you can see Leigh’s voice progress and grow through the whole story as he writes his letters and journal entries.

Overall, I would give this book a pass. I remember reading it in fifth grade, but it didn’t leave much of an impact on me. It’s not particularly memorable, and other Newbery Medal books have more interesting stories to tell than a tale of an attention-starved boy who is upset and anxious about his home life.

 

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