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Review of "Stoner & Spaz"

By Ronald Koertge
Candlewick Press, 2002
Review by Liz Bass on Jun 3rd 2002
Stoner & Spaz

This book is a quick read, and the experience is like watching six Leave It To Beaver re-runs. In fact, it is easy to imagine the Cleavers living down the block from Ben Bancroft (Spaz) and his worry-wart grandma. Wally would think of Ben as a sort-a friend (but not too close-a friend), and the Beav would be at Grandmas back door on a regular basis trying to volunteer for chores because everyone in the neighborhood knows that Ben cant do them because he has cerebral palsy (or C.P., as Ben calls it). Grandma, of course, would be patient with Beav, but irritated all the same. However, shed never show it because shes a classy lady. Anyway, thats how things are played out in Lala Land -- otherwise known as ASC (Affluent Southern California). Or are they really?

Stoner & Spaz is an improbable book in the same way that Leave It To Beaver is an improbable story about an improbable family. Both the book and the sit-com, however, are well written and based on ideas that are easy to digest. They both fall well within the comfort zone of SCAE (Southern California Artistic Expression). Schlocky but harmless.

Readers of Stoner & Spaz might point out that while the Beavs world operated without the benefit of sex, drugs, and grungy music, Ben Bancrofts world is full of it, and they would be right. The fact remains, however, that what Ben and Beav have in common is a geewhiz response to their environment, and an unswerving belief that no matter how bad things get, life will improve. Somehow.

In this 169 page episode of Leave It To Bancroft, heres what happens: Ben, who is described at various times as a spaz, an orphan, and disabled, lives with his grandma and wants for nothing in the way of food, clothing, and shelter. What is missing in his life is peer friendship, particularly of the female variety. He is a movie buff who knows the lore (Elsa Lanchester was the original "big hair" woman in Bride of Frankenstein) and finds applications in his own life for lines of dialogue spoken many moons ago by Humphrey Bogart.

Enter Colleen Minou, a classmate at King High School. She is a Salvation Army clothes horse who deals drugs in order to keep herself supplied. She loves her drugs more than anything. Colleen is an irreverent exhibitionist who hopes to use Ben in whatever way she can (writing her English papers or borrowing money, for example). Ben is so desperate for any kind of female attention that he goes for this girl, much to his grandmas dismay.

There are some interesting side trips off the main plot line. We meet Ed, who is Colleens bicepted boyfriend (who also loves drugs). We see Colleen trying to kick her habit. We see Ben trying to make a movie about the people at King High, and inevitably, we see Ben and Colleen in bed together at his older woman friends house. Incidentally, you get the feeling that Eddie Haskell would know this older woman friend, but that Wally would not. Anyway, Boyfriend Ed is the predictable failure, and Bens home movie is the predictable success. Colleen is. . .well, I wont spoil that. You can read it for yourself.

I can imagine whole carloads of Stoner & Spaz characters pulling in and out of fast food places trying to satisfy their urges. It also occurs to me that if there was such a thing as a fast lit restaurant, this book would be on the menu. It has a less-than-substantial drug dealer with a heart of gold, a ditsy neighbor who gives a teenager the keys to her house and then takes off, a grandma who is a control freak but loveable nonetheless, and a kid with C.P. who finally moves into the fast and friendly lane at King High School because of his movie-making skills.

Be it fast food or fast lit, none of it stays with you for very long. After a few hours, as the old saying goes, you wind up hungry again.


© 2002 Liz Bass


Liz Bass is a retired teacher and principal who lives in Northern California.

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