The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout
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.