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Mercy on These Teenage Chimps    by Gary Soto Amazon.com order for
Mercy on These Teenage Chimps
by Gary Soto
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover

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* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

As Gary Soto's title playfully hints, Mercy on These Teenage Chimps is an extended, fictional analogy that portrays how teenage boys are like chimps (chimps, not monkeys). Though this light-hearted, coming-of-age novel is geared towards adolescent boys, it will put a smile on the face of readers of all ages and both genders.

Ronnie and his best friend, Joey, have just turned thirteen, and along with becoming teenagers, they have also become chimps - or so they believe. Their arms have gotten too long for their bodies, their ears stick out, and hair is beginning to appear where there was no hair before. In addition to the angst of changing bodies, Joey has also developed a crush on a gymnast who goes to the town's other middle school. When Joey shows off for the lovely and talented Jessica during a district-wide sports awards banquet, he gets out of line by disobeying their coach and climbing to the gym rafter to retrieve Jessica's lost balloon. Joey can deal with the punishment; what hurts is that Coach called him a monkey in front of everyone including Jessica. Joey decides that if Coach thinks he is a monkey, he will live in a tree forever. Ronnie understands the drastic measure that Joey is taking, but knows he needs to get his best friend down, so he embarks on a quest to find the girl of Joey's dreams and also to make Coach take back his words. Along the way, Ronnie learns that maybe being a teenage chimp isn't so bad after all.

Soto has written a fun story that is the perfect length for today's overly-booked middle-school boy. The target audience can easily squeeze in this fast-paced, non-preachy, easy read between playing like a boy but acting like a man which is what Soto's novel is all about. Though the lessons Ronnie comes to learn aren't drastic or life-altering, they are real and can help any awkward adolescent boy feel better about what he is going through. Middle-school girls might even want to pick up Mercy on These Teenage Chimps so they can understand why their male classmates act like they do, and maybe even take away some life-lessons for themselves.

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