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The great logic puzzle of life
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Whatshisface: 09/18/18


Whatshisface by Gordon Korman is about a twelve year old with a haunted cellphone. Roderick Northrup died during the reign of Elizabeth I of the plague. Now he's suddenly in Cooper's phone for reasons you'd find in a made for cable tv children's movie.

Before going more into Roderick's piece of this story, let's look at the setting. The town that the Vegas have moved to is known for two things: the wealthy billionaire who lives on the outskirts of town and the annual Shakespeare festival (at the request of the billionaire).

Of course the play the school is putting on for the festival is Romeo & Juliet. Heavens forbid that any other play ever be considered. And of course, Roderick's ire is piqued because he recognizes the play as his own with just the names and the ending changed.

Ultimately this book boils down to being a supernatural buddy caper where the goal is to prove that Roderick was the original author of the play. This falls into the trope of Shakespeare not being creative enough or well educated enough or whatever to write all those plays and sonnets. That's not to say that Shakespeare lived in a perfect bubble and didn't have access to other's people's work. There is evidence that he like everyone else back then was borrowing from the pop culture of the day and making it his own.

The basic plot of this book even with its goofy set up doesn't bother me. What does is how completely clueless Roderick comes off most of the time despite the fact that he had to be educated enough to write a play at the age of twelve in the late 1500s.

English changes a lot. It takes on new words from other languages and it coins new words. The big dictionaries at the end of the year list the words that they have decided to add to their lists. Besides the new words, the grammar, spelling and pronunciation changes too and has changed more widely than many other languages.

But Shakespeare's era is about the time that modern English started to form. The bard is credited with coining many of our modern words. Shakespearean English is tricky but not impossible to read.

Which brings us to Roderick who speaks in a pseudo old timey English with lots of thees and thous. I can't tell if Korman is making Roderick flippant by using the familiar thee/thou with Cooper when he clearly sees him as a wealthy upper class person because of his apparent personal wealth as well as the overall wealth of the town, or not. I hope it's not here just because it's what's expected even if it's not appropriate given the dynamic between the two.

There are other oddities that just rub me the wrong way with how Roderick's old timey nature is presented. For instance, he always calls Cooper, Coopervega as if he only has one name consisting of his given and family name. The language might change, but naming conventions in English go back that far at least. If anything, Roderick should be teasing him for having a family name as his given or "Christian" name as Roderick would most likely call it. (A cooper makes or repairs barrels.)

Finally there is a lack of understanding in the scale of 1590s London with a modern day American or Canadian small town as described in this book. Let's take Hayward since I'm familiar with it. Hayward city has an estimated 160,000 residents.

Add in the unincorporated Fairview which also goes by "Hayward" for the case of postal addresses, and that's another ten thousand people. London in Roderick's time was 200,000. There is no reason he would mistake a busy school with a city as large or larger than the city he lived and died in.

Ultimately it's the sloppiness of details that lost me in Whatshisface. There were so many missed opportunities to show how alike Cooper and Roderick are and how big and influential London was back then.

Three stars

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