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On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk

by Alison Hughes

Remember that kid in school who was a bit ballsy, a bit outside the box, but in a charming, likable way? That’s J.J. Murphy. While other kids in his class might play it safe and build volcano models for their Grade 8 science projects, J.J. decides to focus on studying the behaviour of jerks. The result is this quirky, funny glimpse into the life and mind of a 13-year-old boy.

Structured as a science report written by J.J., On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk presents a narrative about human nature that middle-grade kids will find relatable, humorous, and genuine. Let’s face it, what kid wouldn’t love a book in which every other sentence bears the word “jerk”?

Beginning with a quirky account of the first jerk (the caveman who discovered how to make fire  – accidentally – after stealing another caveman’s stick), J.J. goes on to define levels of jackass behaviour according to his jerk-o-meter before exploring various types of idiots – from crusty old people to overly competitive athletes to mean-spirited bus drivers. His case studies include not-quite-accurate line graphs, made-up pie charts, silly illustrations, unintentionally amusing interview and video transcripts, and recollections of events (because, J.J. reasons, memory is a perfectly reliable source of information if an event was, in fact, memorable).

In addition to the unorthodox format, what makes this book work is its universal appeal. Young readers will enjoy J.J.’s stream-of-consciousness narration, his cheeky tone, and his efforts to convince his teacher that this is actually a science report when it’s anything but. (Adults will chuckle over J.J.’s transparent attempts to flatter his teacher and wheedle bonus marks.)

Edmonton author Alison Hughes deserves an A+ for her smart, engaging middle-grade read.