Thursday, August 02, 2007

What Mrs. N's Been Reading - Benny and Omar

Just finished Eoin Colfer's Benny and Omar. When I ordered this book, I kind of wondered why it didn't seem to be a popular one, since Colfer's other books (the Artemis Fowl series, The Wish List, etc.) generally are. Reading the book, I understand why, but still thinks it's a shame. The publisher seems to be targeting a slightly younger audience (lower middle school) or reluctant readers. Unfortunately those are the people who would bail out on this book after the first chapter. And that's too bad, because if you get past a few potential difficulties, it's a very good book. Benny is a 12-year-old Irish (living in Ireland, not Irish-American) kid who's father is transferred to Tunisia for a year and takes the family with him. Benny's live revolves around hurling (no, not what you do when you eat bad sushi or Mexican food), a sport that is really only popular in Ireland. Unfortunately, the beginning of the book is really heavy in both Irish references and hurling terms, so a reluctant reader may be confused and turned off. (If you do a little quick research first, the reading will be easier. Wikipedia, which I usually don't recommend, has a nice brief explanation of hurling at ) The story gets going in Tunisia, when Benny meets a local orphan named Omar. The only English that Omar speaks is names and phrases he's picked up from watching American television, and Benny speaks no Arabic. Somehow, they manage to communicate and start up a friendship that Benny has to keep secret, because the European kids aren't supposed to mingle with the locals. There are really funny moments when Benny and Omar are trying to communicate, and some really sad ones when you are introduced to Omar's sister. There's also plenty of action as the story progresses. If you can get by the heavy use of Irish references and hurling terms as well as a bit of untranslated Arabic, it's a wonderful story. Unfortunately, it probably won't get read nearly as much as I think it should.

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