Carmichael Taylor is 13 years old and, like many teenagers, has decided views on how his world should be. He lives for words, loves them in fact – and they love him. He can make them do almost anything he wants, and what he wants is to make people laugh. This is not something his parents see as a future career, but then every teenager knows they’re right and that their parents are totally out of touch with what really matters. Carmichael’s love of the comedic generates laughs in and out of the classroom, but staff, with the exception of his English teacher, don’t always respond in a positive way to his inopportune disruptions. That aside, one of the slight irritations for me was the way in which Smith has Carmichael explaining some of the more difficult words he uses. Of course, this is educational, but on occasion it came across as somewhat patronising, too.
I enjoyed the dynamics and humour of Carmichael’s family life very much – a sporty, handsome brother with whom he has epic battles, a mother who is most definitely a force to be reckoned with, but his father is a cipher until almost the end of the book. The characters writ large in Carmichael’s group of friends were entertaining too. Alex, his friend since his early years, encourages him to pursue his dreams and is always ready to help him on his way, though her ideas rarely meet with his parents’ approval.
Carmichael is an unexpected hit at the school Talent Contest, but only because he directs his humour negatively at staff, his peers and his parents, causing distress to almost everyone he knows and resulting in suspension from school. But when his performance, posted by Alex on Youtube, is seen by the producer of a hugely popular show in New York and he is invited to appear in the show he realises that he has been sought after for his verbal cruelty and not for his skill with words and ideas. The scales fall from his eyes and the happy ending which ensues is perfect for him and Alex, if perhaps a little convenient.