The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez

Peter Johnson

“Claudine and I wouldn’t battle so much if I zoned her out the way most guys do, but one of my traits is that I don’t like being bullied or seeing others bullied. Another one of my traits is that I can argue you to death. You want to argue that the cafeteria pizza is great, I can counter with a hundred reasons why it isn’t, even if it’s my favorite meal. This so-called negative characteristic drives my mother nuts, but it’s like I can’t stop myself. I always see the other side of an argument.”


That’s Benny. Seventh-grader. Favorite book is the thesaurus. With his friends, Jocko and Beanie (Reginald and Jefferson - they prefer the nicknames), they’ve even formed a club where they use a weird new word from it everyday, and the others have to guess it’s meaning. Claudine, his archenemy, hates Benny for some reason he can’t figure out, and has a way of making you feel inferior, even if she’s complimenting you. Benny’s dad is always going on about some horrible aspect of the world, and is about fifteen years older than Benny’s friends’ dads, and always making morbid jokes about how he’ll be dead before Benny gets to college.


Benny’s grandpa, who’s recovering from a stroke, one day asks Benny:

“You think the world’s a lousy place, Benny?”
“Don’t you ever watch TV, Grandpa, or pay attention to how people treat one another?”
“Hmmmm,” he says.
“The way I see it, it’s best to think of the worst that can happen. Then you’re never disappointed. Whatever goes down is better than what you expected.”
He squints at me. “Never get hurt that way, do you?”
“You bet,” I say, proud that Grandpa sees the genius of my approach.
“Don’t really live, though, either.”


So Benny’s walking the line between being “negative” and “contrary” (he prefers the latter), which his friend Jocko is starting to find “beleaguering” (“after spending ten minutes with your negative attitude, I feel like someone kicked me in the privates”). His dad says he’s fine with Benny being ‘confrontational,’ “as long as you aren’t disrespectful.” And Benny’s gotten in the middle of a class-wide conflict between the boys and girls over poetry:

“Most of the guys couldn’t care less about poetry. But they do care about all the classes over the years where the girls have taken over, treating us like a bunch of morons.”


He’s elected to write a prose poem, against a rhyming poem Claudine, who it’ s getting more complicated with because, as Benny says:

“as much as I’d like to yell at her, I can’t. It’s weird but when she’s angry, she seems more interesting to me.”


Humorous and fast-paced, complex and layered while grounded in the conflicts of everyday, this is a great read—any way you say it.


Page Count 224
Part of a Series? No
Age Level 8 — 12

This book is . . .