Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
Is it real? Should I believe? That's what Tommy always wants to know about the paper Yoda finger puppet Dwight uses to dispense wisdom and advice to his classmates. Especially now that Yoda is challenged by another force, Darth Paper, a scorn-spewing puppet wielded by hard-hearted Harvey---and Dwight is sinking under the full weight of a school system which wants to expel him.
The brilliance of this book is that the intended readers---upper elementary and middle schoolers---will absolutely know the answer to the "Is it real?" question. They are long past believing in the magic of inanimate objects. So they get to revel in the question behind the question: What is true?
This is exactly what author Tom Angleberger gives them as his hero, Tommy, with an earnest dedication to justice, gathers stories from his classmates of Dwight's benevolence, with the intent of presenting them to the school board. Each tale ("Origami Yoda and the Pre-Eaten Wiener", "Origami Yoda and the Exploding Pizza Bagels of Love") is told by a different kid---in voices that refreshingly reveal their own struggles and mistakes, but also show Dwight's clearly weird approach to life. What's more, some of the episodes result in outcomes probably not appreciated by the adults at the school (who have to clean up vomit from pre-eaten wieners, after all) and you become seriously worried these stories won't be enough to save Dwight. Especially not when Darth Paper.... okay, I won't ruin it.
Ultimately, this is a story that respects kids enough to let them be juvenile and flawed--- and yet totally affirms their power and goodness in the face of "dark times." Read it you will for the humor, the Star Wars insider jokes, the lunch table power struggles---but changed you will be by the power of paper. And yes, I do mean the paper that makes up the pages of this book. But only because it's real. Only because it makes you believe. And only because it is truly good.
This blog entry is cross-posted on Goodreads