Mr. Was, by Pete Hautman (Simon Pulse, 1996)

I’m going a little retro here with this review, and there’s a great reason other than the fact that this is a crazy, cool book. First I need to back up a bit to the Friday before spring break.

My classes were three months in to the independent reading addition to our curriculum, and one student in particular was just devouring YA books. Many times I book talked a title I was reading, this particular student would show up in class with the same book. Turns out we had very similar YA tastes.

On the Friday before spring break, this student came up to me at the end of class and said, “Mrs. P, this is my all-time favorite book. I know you are busy reading lots of other things right now, but I just wanted to share this with you.”


Ok. I didn’t do a happy dance right in front of her. I thanked her, told her I was in the middle of two other books plus grad class but that her book was next. But inside, I was dancing up a storm because I knew this would go down as one of the highlights of my teaching career.

The students I teach are so over extended and so used to being told what to read (by people like me) that they’ve forgotten that joy can be a product of reading. Thanks to innovators in my English department (that’s you, Gary and Russ) who are paving the way for independent reading in the classroom as well as outside educators like Kelly Gallagher (Readicide) and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), I have seen the light. By offering my students time AND choice, I’m starting to see a resurgence of joy and reading occurring simultaneously. My student sharing her favorite book with me is all the data I need as proof that I’m on to something good.

Ok. Ok. I didn’t forget about Mr. Was, Pete Hautman’s first YA novel. I’ll give you just a taste. You’ll have to read it for more!

The book starts out like realistic fiction. Jack Lund, teen, has an alcoholic father who is verbally and physically abusive. Jack’s mom won’t leave him. After Jack’s dad cleans up his act only to fall off the wagon again, Jack’s mom finally decides that enough is enough. Then some terrible things happen, and THEN…there is time travel. What? That’s right. Time travel. When I finished the book and brought it back to my student, our conversation went as follows:

Me: That was insane!
Student: I know, right?
Me: But he spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler!
Student: I know!
Me: And he spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler!
Student: I know!

I probably would not have picked up Hautman’s book on my own for the sole reason that there is so much out there to read in YA that I’ve been devouring newer, more current releases. Thanks to this student, I’m reminded that there are even more exciting reads out there that may not have any running publicity campaigns, but on offering to share in my student’s favorite book (and the chance to have a conversation like the one above) is all the publicity I need.

Currently reading Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

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