With Dodgeball High, Bradley Sands asks and answers the questions that has never crossed any of our minds – what if an entire school and all its classes revolved around dodgeball?
These are not the kind of what ifs’ that Stephen King asks, these are the kind that Bradley Sands, author of Please Do Not Shoot Me In The Face, TV Snorted My Brain and Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You asks.
Enter Justin Lucas, the new kid in school who is about to have the shock of his lifetime, when he realizes that nobody perceives any of his cool qualities, especially his mustache, which deserve to give him the title of coolest kid in the school. Even when he is trying to impress Dodie, his love interest, Justin can never seem to walk that tightrope of trying too hard and not trying at all. Justin may just be one of the best narrators in contemporary fiction, a refreshing break from all the typical coming of age Salinger copies of the young-something in Brooklyn trying to make it.
Justin Lucas is the reader at their worst in school, the epitome of the person that we used to be when we look back on ourselves in old photos with our misguided haircuts, smug smiles and clever slogans on T-shirts.
One of Sands’ best qualities in Dodgeball High is how he highlights how wonderful an unreliable narrator can be. Justin’s perceptions of himself and how others perceive him are as different as you’d expect, even from the mind of a teenager. Justin deflects insults by believing they’re not about him, and even though his references are rich in popular culture, such as calling an opposing player a nerd because his lightsaber has flames and would not exist in the Star Wars canon. With Dodgeball High, Sands shows that he does not have to dive into the absurd to bring laughs, he can create a surreal context and bring the jokes on every page, each one landing with impact every time, like a barbed wire dodgeball to the nuts.
For anyone who is familiar with Sands’ previous work may well recognize Dodgeball High as his best yet. Dodgeball High takes the surreal, bizarro elements of his earlier work, and combines it with his stylish prose writing, which often takes the form of a humorous I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I type of unreliable narrator. Though, above this Sands shows his intelligence, through the strange lore he establishes makes perfect sense, this bizarre alternate universe is in no means strange once the reader accepts it the way it is – showing Sands’ excellent skills at world building, even in the most bizarre of settings.
This isn’t just a story about love or dodgeballs, it’s a coming of age story, though perhaps the least conventional one you have read. It has realization, a heroic journey, and Bradley Sands shows that he has a great knowledge of literary arcs and conventions, to convey them in such an absurd way. Read Dodgeball High, or have your heart torn out on the dodgeball court. Well to be honest, it just might happen anyway.
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