Animal House and Iz
By Betty Hicks
(Roaring Brook Press, Hardcover, 9780761318910, 176pp.)
Publication Date: March 2003
Other Editions of This Title: Library Binding
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Do stepbrothers and stepsisters have to hate each other? Not is this book.
Meet Iz--a girl with three wacko stepbrothers, one cool dad, and an amazingly hard-to hassle step-mother. She's part of a wild and lively household, with praying matises everywhere--not to mention snakes, crickets, crabs, a crazy parrot, road rage trips, unmade beds, a rubber slab of vomit, and one zany plot to get a dog.
How can Iz leave her new and nutty family to visit her boring mom, even for a day, without missing out--big time?
This hilarous romp with the Becker family also looks at love, loyalty, and guilt. Betty Hicks has written another winning novel that delivers humor, pet poop, and a refreshing new take on family ties.
"Stepfamilies in literature get such amazingly bad press," says Betty Hicks. "Evil stepmothers are forever locking unwanted children away in lofty towers, and there are all those jealous brats who cook up dastardly plots to keep their stepsiblings in rags and ashes. Even modern novels for young people show blended families facing huge doses of hostility.
"What if, I wondered, a gril has a stepfamily that is so much fun, she never wants to leave it--even to visit her mother?"
Betty Hicks is the author of I Smell Like Ham, a "humorous yet true-to-life portrayal of family blending" (Kirkus Reviews). She and her husband, Bill live in Greensboro, North Carolina, where their now-grown blended family grew up.
Publishers Weekly Like her I Smell Like Ham, Hicks pens another engaging novel about the ups and downs of living in a family formed from two second marriages. "Elizabeth" to her beautiful and proper mother (an efficiency expert who travels frequently for business), "Liz" to her laid-back father and stepmother (with whom she lives), and "Iz" to her three energetic stepbrothers, the narrator candidly asks, "So, who am I?" Balancing humor and pathos, the author chronicles 11-year-old Iz's quest to answer that question while dealing with dilemmas of varying proportions. She and her stepsiblings launch a "Get-a-Dog" plan, aimed at breaking down their parents' resistance to a pet that can't be left alone on weekends. Their scheme entails ensuring that the family menagerie (turtle, hedgehog, lizard and more) becomes so bothersome that a pooch will seem like an appealing alternative (their research about what animals prey on which other animals results in some comical exchanges). Alas, their plot has several unforeseen consequences: the hedgehog dies after the kids alter its diet, and one of the boys contracts a potentially serious disease from a newly acquired parrot. In a further complication, Iz's mother decides to quit her job so that her daughter can live with her ("I knew I didn't want to live with my mother, but I couldn't tell her that... could I?") and attempts to lure her with plans of getting a dog. Readers will warm to this perky young protagonist and the members of her appealingly chaotic household. Booklist When her parents divorce, 12-year-old Elizabeth desperately wants to live with her perfect, efficiency-expert mother. Instead, she winds up with her laidback dad, an artist who has remarried an equally easygoing woman with three wild sons, who immediately rename Elizabeth "Iz." The thing is, Iz discovers she loves her new, crazy, noisy, exotic-pet-filled house. Things become more complicated after she and her stepbrothers launch the GAD (Get-a-dog) Plan, and Iz's mom announces she wants Iz to move in with her. Yes, Iz still loves her mom, but does she love her enough to abandon her dad and her new, blended family? Hicks, the author of I Smell Like Ham, also about a blended family, does a nice job of mixing humor and heart in a setting of congenial, barely controlled chaos that dramatizes how America is re-defining family. Kids in nontraditional households will find comfort and cheer in this amiable agreeably told story. School Library Journal After her parents' divorce, the young narrator goes to live with her father, his new wife Alice, and Alice's three sons, moving from a quiet, well-ordered house where she was the only child to a messy house with a large family and a collection of pets. The narrator's name sums up the extent of the change and the personalities involved: "Mom calls me Elizabeth. Dad and Alice call me Liz. My stepbrothers call me Iz. One part perfection, two parts casual, three parts crazy." Gradually, shared interests and time allow seventh-grader Logan; twins Joey and Jack, three years younger than Logan; and sixth-grader Iz to become close. Together they create a GAD (Get-a-Dog) plan, which proceeds with some good, some bad, and some very funny results. Iz's voice, her growing realizations, and the situations she creates or in which she finds herself are genuine. The children are real and their growth is sometimes painful, such as Iz's feeling of alienation when she realizes that her best friend and Logan like each other. Adults are fully developed characters, not simply obstacles for the children to overcome. They, too, are capable of growth. All together, this contemporary novel rings true and presents a likable family of individuals with insight and humor.