1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw (I’m like new paper, blank)

VERDICT: Trash!

Laurinda’s Rating: 2/5

Dear Mr. Henshaw, the 1984 Newbery Medal Winner, uses letters and diary entries to explore the experience of a 12-year-old boy whose parents recently divorces. The narrative begins as letters Leigh writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. When Leigh sends Henshaw a list of questions as part of a school project, he gets comical responses and his own list. By so doing, Mr. Henshaw gets Leigh to practice thoughtful writing. Eventually, Leigh switches over to diary entries, though those are addressed to Dear Mr. Pretend Henshaw.

The concerns and narrative are as expected. Leigh worries about his lack of friends, gets mad at whoever is raiding his lunchbox, frets that he caused his parent’s divorce, and pines for the dog his dad took as part of the divorce. With the help of his lunchbox alarm, Leigh begins to make friends. Under the tutelage of Mr. Henshaw, Leigh gets a writing award for a narrative of a trip with his father. He also accepts that his parents won’t reunite, after his mother explains that his dad will never really grow-up. Leigh even does some growing up of his own, sending Bandit the dog back with his father because he knows the two need each other.

Stylistically, the author mimics the voice of a 12-year-old boy, complete with simplistic language and a limited range of topics. For me, this was an utter failure at engaging my attention. It failed to commit – it lacked the hard-core angst and action to succeed as a drama but was too self-involved and whiny to fit elsewhere. The main character was bland and tedious. Early to middle elementary schoolers dealing with a parent’s divorce might relate to this, but I recommend everyone else steer clear. Despite its short length, this was painful to slog through.

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