Middle School Book Review: Hair in all the Wrong Places by Andrew Buckley

When I select a new book to read (a daily occurrence!) I give the book two chapters to grab my interest.  Typically that’s around 10-20 pages.  If I’m not hooked by that point I put it down and move on to the next title.  When I started reading Andrew Buckley’s Hair in All the Wrong Places I was confused.  The narration jumped from scene to scene and I couldn’t tell the difference between what was happening in the “here and now” of the main character’s world and what was happening in his mind.  Plus, the early scenes describing Elkwood, the setting of the story, echoed the description of the main setting in Twilight, series I did not enjoy when I read them nearly a decade ago.  I putthe book down intending to abandon it.  It lasted five minutes.  I picked it back up and decided to push through.  I’m glad I did.

Not all movies are destined to win an Oscar.  Some movies exist to provide an entertaining break from the heat of a summer Saturday afternoon.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  For every Schindler’s List in the world there are ten Pirates of the Carribean movies.  Hair in All the Wrong Places will not appear on the Newberry list, but it’s a fun story that many kids will love, especially kids who need fast paced narration with an edgy theme.

Colin Strauss is a loser.  At least he thinks he’s one.  And so does his hateful bitty of an old, blind grandmother.  Even the principal of his middle school thinks he’s a loser.  But Colin’s life picks up when the girl he’s crushing gives him his first kiss.  It’s not the most passionate kiss in the world, but it’s still a kiss and that has to mean something.  To get his life together he decides to leave his grandmother and the town of Elkwood, but in doing so he becomes mixed up in a murder mystery in which he becomes a primary suspect.  Not only that, Colin is turning into a werewolf.  His body becomes more toned and defined as he begins to change.  He has trouble controlling his emotions and his senses shift into overdrive.  To make matters worse, Colin learns he is not the only werewolf in town.  Elkwood has secrets that touch each and every citizen and unless Colin can figure out who murdered Sam Bale in time more than one life may be at stake.

The adults in the story are mean-spirited and, at times, grossly negligent.  The principal of the school doesn’t seem to like kids at all and the biology teacher is rude to the point of professional incompetence.  Although we learn why many of the adults have such negative characterizations in the latter third of the novel we are still left with few positive role models.  The only likable adult I can recall appeared almost exclusively in telepathic thoughts.  The kids in the story seem cliche at times, although I will give Buckley credit in developing the main character, Colin, sufficiently enough that I kept reading a book that initially didn’t appeal to me.

The last half of the book is when the action picks up and Buckley shows signs of being a gifted writer.  The plot’s pace picks up significantly and the reader is taken on a wild journey to discover the mystery of Elkwood.  The scene at the town hall in which Colin learns the truth about the town made me gasp.  I wasn’t expecting the twist and I doubt young readers will either.  Once this revelation is made readers will have a hard time putting the book down knowing the climax is just around the corner.

I enjoyed the book and am glad I finished reading it.  The provocative nature of the title as well as the themes of puberty and sexual attraction make this book a better fit in a middle school collection rather than an elementary collection.   Students who love the horror genre or who express interest in the supernatural will find the book especially compelling.  Recommended.

Teacher Notes

At the time of this review, the book is not a part of the Accelerated Reader program or Reading First.  However, I find that the tests tend to lag behind publication by at least a month if not longer

Lexile: 720

This book was placed in our Scholastic Book Fair a month ago.  I purchased a copy and read it mostly out of a concern that the provocative title indicated the book was not age appropriate at the elementary level.  I do not believe the book is inappropriate at all, but I do believe some parents will take issue with the puberty theme if the reader is too young.  I caution you to read the book yourself  so you can answer any questions parents may have about this text.  At the middle school, I see no problems at all with this selection.

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