Book Review: Nothing Dazzling About the Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

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In probably a rare moment of wisdom, common sense, and listening to my body, I’ve dropped the graduate class that I was taking.  I plan still on reading some of the required texts—on my own time when I feel in the mood to do so—and I will, if I review those books here, still tag them as being part of Giving Voice to the Voiceless.  I may also do some of the writing exercises.

Josh Berk’s The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is the last book that I read on the syllabus’ schedule before my giving my notification (so to speak).  The book chronicles the extraordinary events that happen in the public high school of a small, Pennsylvanian coal-mining town shortly after Will Halpin transfers from his local deaf school because of what he describes as deaf culture politics (for wanting to be part of the hearing culture as well as the deaf, he is shunned).  On a class field trip, Pat, the star quarterback and son of a wealthy casino owner, is killed when he falls down a mineshaft.  Will’s friend Devon, the only person with which Will really communicates at a school that largely doesn’t understand sign language or the ways in which they can help Will communicate and understand, pulls Will into a Hardy Boys type investigation.

As a child, I read more Boxcar Children books than my mother cares to remember, and The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin became reminiscent of their plots—tracking down clues by somewhat dangerous means, often by defeating suspicious adults.  Written for an older audience and being a stand-alone instead of a series, Hamburger Halpin was less about kids overcoming adults than The Boxcar Children, and dealt more with the peer group and finding one’s place among it.  Hamburger Halpin also delved deeper into more adult and teen themes and ideas (I’m literally talking about sex, drugs, and rock and roll) than The Boxcar Children ever did.

[SPOILERS] As Will teases Devon when Devon comments:

“[…] I can’t believe that everything turned out exactly like a Hardy Boys book.

“HamburgerHalpin: except for the part where the quarterback had a sex liaison with one of his educationalists

“Smiley_Man3000: Oh yeah.

“HamburgerHalpin: and then the prom queen got knocked up and pushed him down a coal shaft

“Smiley_Man3000: Well there is that, but…

“HamburgerHalpin: and then the police arrested frank” (244-245) [END SPOILERS]

As Will relies heavily on technology (instant messages on computer and handheld devices) to communicate easily with Devon, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin may quickly become outdated.  I would have said that its references to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys would have made it feel a little dated already, being uncertain that today’s kids still read these series with any regularity, but I actually did have a giggle of three girls come to me this week to beg to be shown where to find Nancy Drew.

Will’s deafness really only served, for me, to make him a good lip-reader, and therefore a good partner to have when watching surveillance tapes.  Otherwise, Will’s deafness just gives him a reason to have a difficult time in school (any number of other reasons would have served) and a second reason (in addition to his weight, with which Will actually seems surprisingly comfortable, so props to Berk on that point) to be outcast at school.

Neither plot nor prose wowed me, but Hamburger Halpin may interest fans of kid detectives when those readers reach their teens and will be good to recommend for teen mystery readers, though the first 116 pages are given to a bildungsroman and investigation of life for a deaf teen rather than to a mystery and whodunit.

There was something more genuine and interesting about the bildungsroman and Will’s perspective on everyday life than the mystery for me, but I gave up my Boxcar Children obsession long ago and have not adopted another detective series since unless you want to include Harry Potter (which I don’t think that I would).

**1/2

Berk, Josh.  The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin.  New York: Ember-Random, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Josh Berk, Ember, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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