Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk (Feb 2010, Knopf, ages 12 and up).

Will Halpin is the new kid in school.  Okay, so what sets this book aside from other high school books about the new kid?  Well, to start with, Will's overweight. 

And then there's the fact that he's deaf. 

Will transfers from his all-deaf high school to a mainstream Pennsylvania high school because he feels he no longer fits in at his old school. Carbon High can't afford to hire an interpreter, but Will can read lips really well, so the teachers are supposed to seat him where he can see them and the faces of his classmates.  Sitting in the corner isn't exactly helping his chances at popularity. Most kids snub him.  Some of the teachers, like the hot Miss Prefontaine, make fun of him.  Devon Smiley is the only kid who talks to him, and Devon's low on the food chain himself. 

Lip-reading, especially on the school bus, turns out to be an amazing way to learn about your fellow students.  And Will quickly realizes that popular jock Pat Chamberlain is having a party and using a deck of playing cards to invite his friends. It's also easy for Will to figure out who the cool kids are, including Leigha Pennington, Purple Phimmul, Derrick Jonker, and A.J. Fischel. 

In history class, Will discovers there was a famous deaf coal miner, also named Will Halpin. Was he a relative?  Why have Will's parents kept him in the dark?

The class goes on a field trip to a coal mine and a popular student falls to his death. Will realizes there are a lot of suspects. The police interview everyone, including Will and Devon, but can't seem to solve the murder. Can Will and Devon team up to figure out who the killer is? Or will the wrong person get arrested?

The mystery of the deaf coal miner adds an interesting layer to Will's search for himself.  And the murder mystery ratchets the story up another notch, making it a real page-turner.

Yet even if this book were just about Will trying to fit in to a new school it would be worth the price, because Will seems like a real kid, smart, sarcastic and with a great sense of self-deprecating humor ("...a guy with the body of a sedentary manatee."). He's also sharply observant of his fellow students and comes up with appropriate nicknames for them all.  Even if it's been a while since you were in high school, you'll recognize the students, the teachers, and even the bus driver (Jimmy Porkrinds is hilarious!).

To learn more about Josh Berk, visit his website and also be sure to check out Donna Gambale's recap over at The First Novels Club of the recent signing with Josh Berk and Amy King (author of Please Ignore Vera Dietz -- which I reviewed here).  Thanks, Donna!  


  1. I'd really like to get a copy of this one soon. My local library doesn't have one.

  2. Sounds like a great story. I'll have to tell my oldest son about it. He might like it. :)

  3. I got Josh to sign a copy that day at the signing and I'm giving it to my older son in his stocking!!

  4. Thanks, Caroline, Stina and Kate!

    And have a wonderful Christmas.


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