This humorous main character has a voice that reminds me of the snarky girl in "A Crooked Kind of Perfect" or the boy in "Skinnybones." This would make a great read aloud. The dialogue and internal monologue of Rufus is hysterical. He describes annoying adult attributes such as his mom treating him like a kid, "It's like living trapped inside Missus Rogers' Neighborhood. She can't seem to grasp that I'm not three years old anymore. I wonder if she ever will." He finds her crying (usually out of happiness) embarrassing and his dad too strict and weird about working at home. He describes his dad's installation of the front door keypad and cranky note: "There is no doorbell. Do not knock. To speak to residents, enter the security code, then press #. If you do not know the security code, please turn around and vacate the property." When Rufus gets home and finds out his dad had to listen to his screeching guinea pig all day, he says, "I could see Dad smiling in his creepy way. He has pointy canines, too. He looked pretty vampirelike." His dad was definitely out for blood that day. The whole book had me laughing out loud and engaged in the odd-duck characters.
Rufus is dealing with friendships and a bully at school. Murph is his best friend that loves to be the center-of-attention entertaining those around him. Murph loves to tease the gullible Rufus and he is popular with everyone at school. Dmitri, is the new kid that sees Rufus as a rival for Murph's attention and puts him down in order to build himself up in Murph's eyes. It doesn't seem to work as Murph just ignores Dmitri when he makes dumb comments. Eventually, Rufus and Dmitri come to a truce. He's still not the nicest guy but the reader has a better idea that his bully ways come from being insecure and parading money around to try and feel important.They aren't best buds, but Rufus isn't bothered by him at the end and understands he is the new kid who is afraid of not fitting in. Rufus's character arc shows him learning to accept himself and not worry so much what others think of him.
Like many people, Rufus envisions Murph as this perfect person with normal parents, a dog, and more friends than anyone in his grade. He compares his parents and makes them almost cartoonish in their oddities. It brought back visions of my thirteen-year-old daughter thinking we were the most dorky, uncool people in the world. When Rufus learns that Murph has problems, he realizes that outward appearances don't really show what is on the inside of people. Rufus becomes aware that he is afraid others will laugh at him and it gets in the way of making friends. By understanding that most of the students are trying to be popular and cool and are afraid like him, he is able to be happy with who he is whether it means having a pet guinea pig that acts like a dog or collecting Scrabble tiles and liking anagrams.
A subplot involves his mom inviting a girl with his family on a picnic that adds humor and shows the insecurities of kids when they become interested in the other sex. Rufus has no interest in this girl and she scares him, although he is mainly worried of what kids at school will say. But it also shows that budding interest between boys and girls and how awkward it can be getting to know others from the opposite sex. Rufus envies Murph's ease at talking to girls their age. This book is fun. This book is kooky. This book is weird. Take Rufus's description of his mom "...smiling from ear to ear. People use that expression a lot, but my mom really does smile from one ear to the other. The corners of her mouth were, like, a nanometer from her ears." Guaranteed to make you smile. Big.