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Thursday, March 21, 2019

March 21, 2019: YA Series: Timmy Failure

[In a development that I’m sure will shock precisely no one, my 13 (!!!) and about-to-be 12 year-old sons are both huge readers. They are fans of many authors and books, but for this week’s series I wanted to focus on, well, series—Young Adult series in particular—that they love. Please share your YA recommendations, series or otherwise, for a crowd-sourced weekend post!]
On the difficult task of appealing to kid and adult audiences, and a series that pulls it off in (Sam) spades.
Having become something of an expert in children’s and YA adult media and culture over the last, I dunno, baker’s dozen or so years, I would argue that there is a very distinct spectrum when it comes to whether and how a particular work appeals to kid and/or adult audiences. If a work appeals only or even mostly to kids, it can be pretty painful for the adult who is often experiencing it along with them (I’m looking at you, Captain Underpants). If it appeals too fully to adults, then kid audiences will be either bored or confused and it seems kind of selfish for an adult to make them experience it with him or her (I’m looking at you, SpongeBob SquarePants). But when a work manages to appeal to both audiences equally and successfully, it becomes one of those truly engaging cultural texts that, I dunno, single fathers and their two tween sons can experience again and again with great pleasure (I’m delightedly looking at you, the first Wreck-It Ralph [the less said about the recent sequel, the better]).
Among the YA series that the boys have enjoyed over the last couple years, I would say that Stephan Pastis’ Timmy Failure books are perhaps the best at hitting that sweet spot. From 2013’s Mistakes Were Made through last year’s 7th and apparently final It’s the End When I Say It’s the End, the series has chronicled the hilarious and heart-warming misadventures of Timmy Failure, our narrator, a middle schooler, and the self-proclaimed (and only self-proclaimed) World’s Greatest Detective. I’m not sure any books have made my sons laugh as consistently as has Timmy; when a new book comes out we often go to Barnes & Noble so the boys can each read their own copy immediately before we purchase one for our collection, and watching the two of them laugh their way through a new Timmy Failure has been one of my great parenting joys of the last couple years. Although he would likely never admit it, Timmy also has a very big heart, and Pastis finds a way to weave those heartfelt moments and lessons through the books without losing a bit of Timmy’s delightfully un-self-aware arrogance and silliness. These are truly unique and successful tween reads, and I would unreservedly recommend them to any tweens and their parents.
But not only them—for the last few books in the series, after that B&N ritual this AmericanStudier has taken his own turn to read the new Timmy Failure as well. All those aforementioned qualifies are certainly part of it, as this is not the kind of humor that can rub an adult reader the wrong way (I’m still looking at you, Captain Underpants). But what really sets Timmy apart is its impressively accurate deconstruction of the hard-boiled private detective mystery genre. Timmy himself is clearly a connoisseur of the genre, and so his voice and persona are carefully constructed attempts to fashion himself into that hard-boiled prototype. But as he does so, Pastis is able to gently satirize two different sides to the type: the irony that these uber-detectives are often pretty clueless, especially about other characters and relationships; and the more moving irony that their hard-boiled exteriors often mask traumatic histories that they’re attempting to repress or forget (in Timmy’s case, his father’s abandonment of the family). For this lifelong MysteryStudier, these elements make the Timmy Failure books truly engaging and thought-provoking, one more way in which they hit that rare sweet spot of kid and adult audience appeals.
Last series tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this post? Other YA lit series, books, or authors you’d highlight?

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