Funny Little Monkey
Every day before high school starts, Arty Moore readies a syringe and injects himself in the tender skin on the inside of his thigh. It’s not what you think, though. Arty is 4-foot-2, and the syringe is full of growth hormone. The doctors tell him it’ll rocket him up to his true height of 6-foot-5, an altitude his pizza-faced, adrenal, juvenile delinquent twin, Kurt, has already attained. Kurt’s been making Arty’s life miserable for years, but the day Arty notices Kurt in the “penny parade”—the daily assault of the weak and oddball (Arty included) under a hail of chucked change—he decides enough is enough. A mysterious classmate nicknamed Kerouac (no, not for his drinking or love of flannel, because of the thumbed copy of On the Road he carries everywhere) clues him in to a secret society of well-organized miscreants who can stage a smear campaign against Kurt that would do the KGB proud. And all the while, Arty is not sure if pretty rich girl Leslie likes him for who he is, or for his stubby little body. Golly! Being a teen sure is tough!
First-time novelist (and Baltimore resident) Andrew Auseon seems to think the secret of writing for adolescents is to throw Porky’s detail into grade-school drama. Subtract Arty’s tit-level vision and salty mouth and vivid puke descriptions, however, and all you’ve got is a particularly dry episode of Saved by the Bell. Arty wants to show us what a hip rad cool guy he is by giving snappy nicknames to everyone he meets, but after meeting and discarding yet another crowd of “Pinochle, Cosby Sweaters, Binge-And-Purge, Olga, Camel Toe, and Fire Engine,” the tack is distracting. (To say nothing of Arty’s disturbingly oedipal attraction to his mother. Find any teenage boy ready to sit on his mother’s lap, Napoleon-sized or not.) The idea of a high-school clique devoted to mercenary black ops is intriguing, and its payroll, including the gangly girl mechanic Oil Change and domestic-in-deep-cover Camilla, show the most potential as characters—but it’s potential that’s never realized.
The book’s most successful parts are the mock school newsletters that separate chapters—their throwaway jokes provide the novel’s only genuine enjoyment. Otherwise, like the tintype toy simian on the cover, Funny Little Monkey spins and sputters and goes nowhere.