Middle schooler Jamie Grimm has dreams of being the best stand-up comic in the world, and he isn’t going to let the fact that he’s wheelchair-bound stand in his way. Winning the New York State Finals in the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic Contest is what Jamie wants to do. A sadder story lies beneath this: Jamie has come to be in a wheelchair through a car accident in which his entire family were killed. He doesn’t wish to dwell on it, but he does eventually talk about it to his “cool girl” girlfriend. Their relationship revolves mostly around communication, with one kiss in the twilight.

Some critics have asserted that the book is disagreeable due to the fact that it is a wheelchair-bound boy winning a comedy competition, and that he is punched to the ground by a bully. Yes, this is heavy stuff in a light form, but such things can and do happen. Such critics maintain that in real life Jamie would have won due to a “pity vote” rather than by having his own genuinely funny humour. However, the book makes a convincing case that the main character has won on his own merits. Jamie feels humiliated by false pity. He wants to be given opportunities to shine and to make mistakes, just as others who are not labelled “differently-abled” are given. He goes through stages of genuine sadness and rejection when accused of having won based on the “pity vote” by the bully, and consequently tests his humour on a wide variety of people. He brings the house down with laughter, just as he does at the local diner with Uncle Frankie and his cafe mates, and eventually comes to the conclusion that his humour and cheer is welcomed, wanted, and indeed sought after – as good as any Hollywood stand-up comedian.

The book induces feelings of goodwill, causing us to laugh at ourselves, as Jamie does. We come to feel this young boy in a wheelchair can do a lot of good in the world just by being cheery and full of humour, laughing without bitterness at his own situation. His comedy and humour have come about through affliction and hardship. The author makes it clear too, through many scenes, that the misuse of humour to laugh at others is harmful and wrong.

The jokes are quite funny, and the reader is kept guessing whether Jamie will win the coveted prize, how his developing friendship with “cool girl” will go, and how he will cope with being adopted into a seriously straight-faced, logical family who see no humour in life, nor in themselves. The sequel is I Even Funnier where Jamie faces new challenges.

A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a fuill-time mother of two.