‘My Life as a Potato’

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books

By Arianne Costner, illus. James Lancett, ages 8-12, 259 pgs., Random House, hardcover, 2020, $16.99

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By DONNA MCCROHAN ROSENTHAL

Local author Arianne Costner tells a funny, observant, can’t-put-down story about seventh-grader Ben Hardy, the new kid in school. His family has moved from Los Angeles with its beaches and skateboarding to the “Potato Capital of the World” in Idaho with its cold weather and middle school where the basketball team, the Spuds, has a boy in a potato costume for its mascot. The cafeteria serves hot dogs so rubbery that they bounce and students make a game of flinging them around. One day Ben launches a record-breaking six-bounce throw – just in time for the mascot to walk by, slip on it, and sprain his ankle.

The principal offers Ben a choice: suspension or take over as the mascot at the next few games. Ben reluctantly agrees, setting off a tangle of deception, suspense, revenge, friendship, dating, texting, and YouTube.

Prepping Ben for his debut performance, the coach advises, “Come up with your own routines if you want. I hear the Google is chock-full of mascot ideas these days.” Resisting the urge to guffaw, Ben discovers that the coach once did a turn as Winchester the Chipmunk, where his signature move consisted of nibbling on the other team’s mascot.

Ben works on his material by watching videos of a dancing banana from Florida and the fighting okra from Mississippi, while the big girls-ask-guys dance approaches for which nobody invites anybody by saying, “Will you go with me?” Oh, no. Instead, they arrange elaborate surprises with balloons popping out of lockers and acceptances spelled out with bacon.

The plot unfolds with clever developments and potato puns galore. (The cheerleaders chant, “Spuds, not duds! Sour cream of the crop! We mash the competition and we never stop!”). The characters – ranging from considerate and talented Ellie to popular Jayla – ring true and sparkle with snappy dialogue.

The book delivers laughs and good messages. Along the way, Ben learns valuable lessons such as “No one wants to mess with a potato if he’s got the crowd on his side” and nothing beats being yourself.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursdays of the month (except during lockdown) at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year.

Story First Published: 2020-05-01