Posted in 2014-2015 Club, Not Mock Newbery

Life and Times of Benny Alvarez, by Peter Johnson

Summary:  As his English teacher focuses on poetry during the month of October, Benny faces down the smartest girl at school while also navigating his friendships and a difficult family life after his grandfather’s multiple strokes.

Harper

Find it at WCPL

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2 thoughts on “Life and Times of Benny Alvarez, by Peter Johnson

  1. I think this book was an OK, read; it wasn’t the best of the one’s I’ve read but it wasn’t a Newbery. The description of the book:

    ” As his English teacher focuses on poetry during the month of October, Benny faces down the smartest girl at school while also navigating his friendships and a difficult family life after his grandfather’s multiple strokes. ”

    Basically explains it all, I can’t think of anything else to add.

    The weaknesses of the story, to me were the characters as I didn’t establish much of a connection to any of them, and the setting was barely described in my opinion.

    I also think that it focused too much on how Benny felt about the other girl. I can’t say anything else because that would be a spoiler but I felt it didn’t focuse enough on the actual story..

    Overall, I dont think this is a Newbery but it is a fun read for 5th graders.

  2. The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez opens up with the glass half full metaphor. If you see the glass as half full, you have a positive aspect on life, but if you see it as half empty, you are essentially a negative person. The main character, Benny, has a big reputation for being the glass-half-empty kind of person. The author sets the beginning up well, so that it’s clear by the end, Benny should have made a decision which person it was better to be: positive or negative. However, I do not feel as if this book was put together as well as it could have been. This book was definitely meant to be a humorous read and I laughed out loud at times, but if the sentences had been more to the point, the scenes would have been funnier and the writing style would have fit more to the story. I often forgot who was speaking in dialogues because the names weren’t mentioned a majority of the time. Benny’s younger brother Crash was written really well. He was hilarious, carefree, and memorable. It seemed like the author was going for that honest-middle-school-voice with Benny himself, and at times Benny acted out that part fine. But other times, it seemed to me the author was trying too hard to make a point of Benny’s negativity and melancholy personality. With Benny’s negativity being so forced, it seemed obvious there was supposed to be some grand point made at the end regarding positive and negative outlooks on life. I expected a strong theme and solid conclusion. Was the theme supposed to be about how negativity was really originality? Or was the moral of the story supposed to be that there are things in life worth being positive about? I did not feel this book had a complete feeling. Overall, there were a lot of loose ends blocking this book from reaching its Newbery potential. For example, there was that well done image of the glass half full vs. glass half empty at the beginning, but then it was never brought up again. Also, much of this book was focused around this amazing poem Benny supposedly wrote for a contest. Personally, getting to read that poem was what strung me along through the dragging second half of the book. When the scene arrived where his grandfather, near death, was reading the poem Benny wrote, I expected to read it and feel that every loose end in the book was resolved. Instead, the poem wasn’t even printed in the book so the loose ends remained untied and I was left with an unsatisfactory feeling. But I would recommend it to sixth graders looking for a quick and funny read with a bit of depth to it.

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