Sam Lewis is the smartest boy in his class, maybe even the smartest boy in his entire middle school, but that isn’t going to help him come recess when Morgan Sturtz is planning to kick his butt. This funny book aimed at the 8 to 12 crowd, was an absolute pleasure to read from the title (33 Minutes…Until Morgan Sturtz kicks my butt) to the very last sentence. Todd Hasak-Lowy created a great main character who has a unique narrative style; I loved Sam Lewis!
We meet Sam when he has 33 minutes until recess. Once those 33 minutes are up, he knows that his former best friend is going to kick his butt. Sam may be smarter than the kids who are in school with him, but he isn’t the most popular. His ex-best friend, Morgan Sturtz, is one of those popular kids. Morgan is great at sports and not so great at school, but until this year started, it didn’t seem to make a difference. Morgan and Sam were the best of friends. Sure, Sam may have spent more time doing things that Morgan liked to do, but they had a lot of fun together. This year, however, Morgan doesn’t seem to like Sam anymore, and yesterday, he told Sam, in front of a group of other middle school boys, that he was going to kick Sam’s butt. And Sam isn’t sure what is going to happen.
This isn’t a book about bullying, although that topic is touched on in the novel. Morgan may be about to get into a fight with Sam, but most people agree that he is a nice kid. It’s just that recently, something happened to change the way Morgan looks at Sam. This book is mostly about what happens when friends change and friendships change, too. As the minutes tick by until recess, Sam remembers the progress from being best friends to being on opposite sides of a lunchroom brawl. From the first pages, Sam wins you over. He’s smart and funny, and he genuinely misses his friend. Peppered through the novel are little sketches of the people around him, my favourite being the visual list of the different kinds of teacher facial hair you can find at his middle school (Bethany Barton does a great job with all the illustrations). This book isn’t sappy and it doesn’t come across as heavy-handed. It’s a fast and compelling read, and one that I couldn’t wait to share when I was finished.
Bullying is a hot topic and there are lots of books about it, but 33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz kicks my butt found that perfect balance between being entertaining, well-written and meaningful, a great trifecta for any book. If you want other books on bullying that find that nice blend between a serious topic and light-hearted humour, here are a few other titles that you might enjoy:
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
Thirteen-year-old Henry’s happy, ordinary life comes to an abrupt halt when his older brother, Jesse, picks up their father’s hunting rifle and leaves the house one morning. What follows shatters Henry’s family, who are forced to resume their lives in a new city.
The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale
In this story told alternately through journal entries and instructions from a bullying manual, sixth-grader Eric embarks on a quest to find the reason why he is being teased and tormented in middle school. This book is loosely based on the author’s own experiences.
I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Resolving to become the world’s greatest stand-up comedian despite less-than-funny challenges in his life, wheelchair-bound middle school student Jamie Grimm endures bullying from his mean-spirited cousin and hopes he will be fairly judged when he enters a local comedy contest.