Book: M.E. Kerr. Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack. New York: Dell Publishing Co, 1972.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: This book was intended for students of age 13-16 years old.
Read-Alouds: coming soon!
Summary: Tucker Woolf is the typical, awkward 15 year old in middle-class society, but when his cookie cutter world falls apart (before the novel even begins), he begins to see a new side of life. His father loses his job and his mother takes on a new job at a “smut” magazine to make money. With all the confusion going on, Tucker’s cat, Nader, begins to upset Mr. Woolf’s allergies causing the family to get rid of her. Dinky Hocker, an overweight teen girl on the other side of Brooklyn, takes Nader into her house and without even trying, becomes friends with Tucker. The two teens introduce each other to people and situations that ultimately change their lives: Tucker falls for Dinky’s mentally ill cousin, and Dinky is smitten with Tucker’s opinionated friend and begins to care about her self image. In the end, the novel is about both teens and how they grow due to these experiences, but it truly parallels their lives to show how the influence of parents can make or break youth at a critical point in their life.
Themes: One theme of this novel is self-image. Despite being obese, Dinky did not care about how she looked at first; she walked around in pajamas and male clothing, and she could never be found without food in her mouth. When she met P. John Knight, who was also overweight, they encouraged each other to lose weight and take control of their eating habits. After her mother disapproved and he left town, Dinky stopped caring about her body image again and ate until she became morbidly obese. P. John, on the other hand, felt more encouraged after leaving and lost a great amount of weight while he was gone.
Another important concept found in the novel is romantic relationships. The main characters are all 15 (aside from P. John whom was slightly older) and they had never been on a date or even talked to the opposite sex outside of class. The course of the novel shows the teens starting to interact with boys/girls and how those connections evolve from an innocent friendship to something more exclusive. Also, the relationships of the adults in the novel also say a lot about romantic relationships and what the author seems to make of it: Dinky’s parents are together and they do everything as a team, Tucker’s parents are still happily married and go to great lengths to support each other and cover what the other does not, Jingle (Tucker’s uncle) is married numerous times and it always fails which is undoubtedly why he is a “loser”, Natalia’s father (Dinky’s cousin) killed himself because her mother was mentally ill and he couldn’t help her. It seems as if the author hints that love is everything.
Rehabilitation is another prominent theme in Kerr’s novel. Mrs. Hocker constantly works to rehabilitate former heroin addicts or smackheads in the community. Dinky and P. John try to get themselves healthy again after they have eaten themselves into oblivion after so many years. Tucker’s uncle also tries to get better after his alcoholism causes a huge inconvenience to Tucker’s family. While most attempts at rehabilitation in the novel fail, the author makes it clear that it at least makes a difference to try and save one’s self and if they fail they should try again.
Connections: In my own opinion, this book seems to relate to John Green’s and David Levithan’s, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Kerr’s character, P. John Knight, seems to be the straight, older brother of Tiny Cooper. Both novels deal with typical coming of age issues, like identity/self-image, however, W. Grayson, covers more mature topics like homosexuality. I would definitely consider Kerr’s novel to be a great introduction to students that like dry humor but are too young to read Green and Levithan. At the same time, Kerr’s novel would also be a great text to use in a unit about family relationships or the start of romantic relationships.
Reactions: I liked the novel. While the story line was typical of young adult fiction, it was told in a young and sweet way. The language was funny, yet soft, as if the author was trying not to offend anyone. I found the characters to be quite believable, however, until the author revealed their age, I thought they were much younger than they actually were. Kerr does not provide much to place the novel, so while a reader may be unsure about when it takes place, the novel is able to fit in with whatever generation is reading it.
Reception: Mark Sieber, at horror drive-in.com, found the book at a garage sale and admits that it is a great novel. He not only says that it is “very well written”, but it deals with issues that are familiar to just about every teen. The critic provides a great summary of the novel and even a little background information about how it is still in publication. Visit the site for the full review.
Buchbesprechung von Heino Konzett wrote a review on Kerr’s novel and honestly it is not written very well. However, the critic admits that the novel is not “their type of reading”, but it is a good read for teens. Once again, it is said that Kerr’s novel covers the typical teenage issues and that it teaches great lessons. On the other hand, Konzett believes it starts off slow and that most readers will very likely be bored in the first few pages, but does insist that they read on.