Anyone who has ever felt like the underdog or has ever had a crush cannot help but root for Herman Wouk’s amiable protagonist, Herbie Bookbinder. At age eleven and a half, Herbie is admired and envied by classmates as the bright, but chubby boy who skips to the eighth grade. A bit of a bookworm, Herbie constantly finds himself the target of his nemesis, Lennie Krieger, the good-looking, athletic, academically challenged son of Mr. Bookbinder’s business partner.
Herbie can handle the incessant ribbing from Lennie most of the time. After all, brains do often win out over brawn. Their competition heats up, however, when they find they are both vying for the attention of the same red-head. Lucille Glass is coquettish and spoiled, but Herbie is determined to impress her. With a little encouragement from the school principal, Herbie gets his parents to send him and his older sister, Felicia, to the same camp Lucille attends-only to find that Lennie is going too.
Wouk presents Herbie’s emotional ups and downs with a clever wit that captures the truth about growing-up. Friendship, respect, family loyalty and true justice all play a role in Herbie’s adventures. Readers will experience the crush of his defeats and the elation in his victories, such as they are. Herbie’s relationship with his parents and sister is realistic and wholesome, and reflects the common sense of hard-working people of the late 1920’s. While some middle school students may find the novel’s subtle humor challenging, Wouk’s classic story about those awkward years remains a timeless must read.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.