The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout
Posted on July 27, 2021 Posted by John Scalzi 8 Comments
There’s a special time in everybody’s life, and by “special” we mean “really confusing and also seriously what the heck is going on?” It’s that special time that Greg Van Eekhout covers in his novel Weird Kid, and along the way he gets into why being a weird kid is, kinda, sometimes, awesome.
GREG VAN EEKHOUT:
I was visiting an elementary school and after my author talk a kid came up to my signing table and I said hello and he said, “What is the best pencil sharpness?” You get asked a lot of interesting questions at visits, like “How much money do you make?” and “Are you a Christian?” and “Why do we have to be here?” so I was happy to get lobbed such a softball. “Sharp,” I answered, “because line precision.” But I got it wrong, because sharp leads are prone to breakage, yet dull pencils produce muddy lines, so the correct answer was medium, obviously. We happily chatted about pencils for a while until I told him about a shop in New York City that sells pencils and only pencils and then he went a little pale and floated off in a state of wonder.
I was so delighted to meet this fine young person with their joyous obsession, and I hoped all their weird interests would be respected and nurtured and celebrated. But I also worried. Because he was only a few short years away from middle school.
In his Life in Hell comic, Matt Groening identifies middle school as the deepest circle of Hell, and he’s not wrong. I still remember my first day of middle school (I’m old, so back then it was junior high). There was a whole new vocabulary and new set of behaviors and ways of being a person that nobody had bothered to tell me about. Even the teachers were weird. They acted like they hadn’t known me for six years (possibly because they hadn’t known me for six years). They acted like they weren’t already aware I was an awesome kid. Nobody wanted to talk about pencils. I was weird in a world where it was no longer okay to be weird.
We meet Jake Wind, the protagonist of Weird Kid, on his first day of middle school, and he faces all the weirdnesses of middle school that I did, only with some additional challenges, because he’s a shape-changing ball of goo from another planet who’s just barely managing to maintain human form. The metaphor is pretty obvious, I know.
As you might deduce from the description of Jake’s plight, this is a deeply personal, cathartic story to me. I wrote it for the pencil enthusiasts and alien goo kids and everyone who’s beautifully, spectacularly, gloriously a little or a lot weird. I wrote it for the kids who haven’t yet found a home in a community of likewise weird people. And I wrote it for the kids who haven’t yet learned that the things that make them weird are the very same things that make them interesting, and fun, and invaluable.
Also, Jake’s dad is a proctologist, so there are a lot of butt jokes. The butt jokes earned praise in a starred Publishers Weekly review. I’m pretty proud of that.
Weird Kid: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Mysterious Galaxy
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.
Oh God, middle school. I’m almost fifty and I’m still not over it.
I read the preview & it’s giving off strong Daniel Pinkwater vibes: Star Hammer from the planet Bahlpeen, indeed!
I regularly give book recs to my friends’ younger teen kids & this is definitely going on the next list.
I totally empathize, even though my weirdness was multiplied by my social obliviousness in both Jr High and High school.
If I had allowed myself then to care about what the cute guys thought of me, it probably would have been different though!
I hear you, Catherine.
A computer nerd millionaire said his fellow millionaires agreed that middle school was the nadir of their lives. That was Paul Graham in his web essay Why Nerds are Unpopular.
Call me a nerd, but even as a kid I was less interested in Ensign Checkov than the other bridge crew. Today my conformity is merely from camouflage, not from fear, and I am drawn to artists, writers, web commenters and similarly independent people.
Sounds fun! Jnr. High sucked green donkey d**ks. I was the kid with a cleft lip and speech impediment. I would have liked being a shape-changing ball of goo (like Proty in Legion of Super Heroes.) I wound up a writer, which is kinda like being on another planet…
I read the “Big Picture” article and immediately bought the book. For myself! I’m 71, but I was definitely a weird kid. I read it in one sitting. Couldn’t put it down.
Well, I’m here to tell you that the book is a delight. It’s quirky, funny, and in the end, inspiring. Thank you, Greg Eekhout! I know I’ll be re-reading this story many times, and enjoying the hell out of it each time.
‘Scuse me—I meant to write “Greg Van Eekhout.” I hate to get people’s names wrong!