Antsy Bonano’s intelligently humorous and yet thoughtful banter speaks what may be in the minds and hearts of many teens. His story is relatable but also offers worthwhile topics for reflection. Part of the intelligence in the humour is that the jokes never seem to die, they bounce back at you from unexpected quarters, pages after the original event. This makes for very entertaining reading.

Antsy isn’t perfect, but in the course of this book we see him learn from mistakes and gain a good deal of maturity. Here’s a sample.

A well-intentioned gesture to donate a month of his life for his ‘terminally ill’ friend turns into a time-machine circus with everyone, including the school principal, joining the game. Though it spirals a little out of control, it does get Antsy thinking about the value of time and the uselessness of wastes of time spent watching reruns on the couch or destroying simulated nations in computer games.

This leads Antsy to come up with the ingenious notion of “daymares”, time spent imagining irritating arguments you never had but might have some day, or where you put yourself through worst-case scenarios. He is honest with himself when he realises his “daymare” about his friend’s future funeral was all about himself and how much a girl he likes would respect him. Drawing attention to this self-centred form of daydreaming could be helpful for many teens.

On the topic of relationships, Antsy first notices the slightly older Kjersten for her appearance (including experiencing a ‘brain-scramble’ when he looks at her t-shirt). True to his character, however, he gradually learns more about who she is and the two become good friends. When they start to go out, Antsy realises that Kjersten appreciates his youthfulness because he reminds her of a time when she was happier, so he becomes a skate-board-riding, bad-joke-telling kid to help her forget the complications of her family life. Ultimately, he realises their friendship/relationship doesn’t have much future, but he’s helped her through a tough time and the two remain on good terms.

Antsy has an old-fashioned approach to friendships and relationships in general, and he wisely judges how technology has harmed people’s ability to get to know each other. He has a healthy approach to friendships, and even when one friend has conned him, Antsy eventually forgives him and the friend is grateful.

Antsy has a good relationship with his family—something which is not too common in teen literature—and one sign of this is that they’re aware of things they need to improve, like his father’s preoccupation with work and lack of time for his children. His mother has a sense of humour (also refreshing in a teen novel) which effectively illustrates the mother-son ability to understand one another. Neither Antsy nor his family are very kind to Aunt Mona, but in the circumstances it’s difficult to blame them… she’s a complainer who tends to throw a wet blanket on everything. He learns from her that it’s not good to tell people “your suffering is nowhere near as bad as mine”.

His friend’s family doesn’t have such a happy outcome, because their father can’t give up his gambling habit, and ultimately the parents separate. There’s still a glimmer of hope that he’ll look for a job, but his family move back to Sweden without him. This situation is presented realistically and is seen as very sad, and important lessons are learned by Antsy and his friends about the harm of gambling and the damage it can do to family relationships.

All in all it’s a solid contemporary story for teens that just might get them thinking.

Clare Cannon is the editor of and the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.

Clare Cannon lives in Sydney where she is editor of The Good Reading Guide and manager of Portico Books,...