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Herbach’s previous trilogy — “Stupid Fast,” “Nothing Special” and “I’m With Stupid” — recounted the larger-than-life story of Felton Reinstein, star athlete and tormented son of a suicide. These award-winning books were a huge hit, and rightly so. Felton’s combination of vulnerable, smart, lost and funny evoked adolescence in spades — and hearts, too. Fat Boy’s protagonist, slightly younger and less self-aware, tells his story in an epic recitation for an increasingly amused and incredulous police detective in his Minnesota lake town.
Gabe, rotund trombone player and band geek, rouses and harnesses the ire of his school’s reject tribes: the geeks, the outcasts, the Goths and burners and freaks. The revenue from the school’s soda machine has previously funded the band program. Now, due to skulduggery on the school board, said revenues have been diverted to a cheerleading dance program that supports the school’s athletic department. The beloved bandleader has been canned. So Gabe, supported by an unlikely cast, vows to right this wrong and restore the band program.
The pursuit of this goal gives Gabe his dignity back, as well. The heroes here are the kids whose achievements don’t tend to get a lot of recognition; their achievements sometimes amount to nothing more than maintaining a sense of their own value in the face of adult despair, greed and failure. Herbach’s gift is to evoke this imperfect world and, despite all, to make it glow.
Ann Klefstad is a writer and artist in Duluth.