When Fatty Matty Sullivan finds a self-help book by former football great Tad Manly at a yard sale, he secretly starts following the old pro’s advice to get in shape and get the girl. Summer goals: lose the milkshake weight, join the football team, and turn himself into the kind of guy super hot Cassie Bale will love.
But between taking care of his grandfather, trying to pass remedial Algebra, and getting caught up in his friend Jester’s half-baked weed-dealing schemes, Matty’s summer isn’t quite the game-changer he’d planned. When on top of it all his dad moves back in with his own plans to get rich quick, Matty suddenly has much bigger things to worry about than football and whether or not Cassie’s going to call him back. And it turns out that there might be more to being manly than he thought.
Maureen O’Leary Wanket’s debut is a sharp, comic novel about trying to do the right thing… even when you’re not sure what that is.
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One question I hear about my Young Adult novel How to Be Manly is, “How did you come up with the idea of the Santas?”
I do not intend to reveal a spoiler here. But let’s talk about money.
I love YA that is honest about what it feels like to struggle for money. Melissa Marr’s Ink Exchange comes to mind. Her main character has to work waiting tables for the money to pay for bills and food. Teen Spirit by Francesca Lia Block also features a character whose life is thrown by death and poverty. These are the stories that move me the most because the characters are maneuvering the real, even while their lives include faeries and ghosts. These characters are bound by financial limitations, just like most of us who read their stories.
How to Be Manly does not feature the paranormal, but it does address poverty. My main character Matty’s life is also thrown off course by concerns about money. In my experience as a teacher, many young people are aware of their family’s financial concerns. Money problems are difficult for young people to face because there isn’t much they can do about them. Matty decides to take a huge money matter in his own hands in the only way he can conceive to get rich quick. Except he isn’t even trying to get rich. He’s just trying to get by.
In this post-Recession time, so many of my students tell me that they are shooting to earn academic or athletic scholarships to relieve the burden of tuition for their parents. I know young people who are major breadwinners for their families through their part time jobs. I value literature that reflects the experiences of a diverse group of readers. I mean, I am not shy about how much I love Holden Caulfield, but not all kids have the cash for NYC cab rides and hotel stays. The strugglers’ stories need telling too.
So where did I come up with the idea of the Santas? From my own family who has had to restructure and get resourceful during the Recession. From families I admire who have supported themselves and their children through means creative and even subversive.
I also got the idea from the troublesome image of Santa himself, who brings plenty of toys to “good” kids, while on Christmas morning lots of poor kids end up with nothing. I loved playing with the whole notion of Santa and making him on the side of a kick ass Grandma who will teach the men in her life a thing or two and above all else, provide.